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HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA/AP) — Pennsylvania’s state prisons remain on lockdown after a rash of illnesses were reported by prison employees, mostly corrections officers, over the past few weeks.

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The Department of Corrections announced the step Wednesday, following the news that guards and nurses were treated for possible drug exposure inside an Ohio prison.

In the meantime, it’s suspending prison visits, closing mailrooms to non-legal mail and requiring all employees to use gloves and other personal protective equipment.

Pennsylvania previously reported five separate cases between Aug. 6 and Aug. 13 in which 18 employees in three western Pennsylvania prisons showed symptoms that required medical treatment.

What caused the employees to get sick remains a mystery. However, in some cases, officials believe a liquid synthetic drug may be responsible.

“It’s probably just a really bad batch of something that is in the western part of the state that has made it into our institutions,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Amy Worden said.

In our area, there are four state prisons, including Mercer, Somerset, Fayette and Greene counties.

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SCI Greene (Photo Credit: KDKA)

The state says the facilities in Fayette, Greene and Mercer have reported incidents of employees becoming ill.

The prison lockdown will last indefinitely.

“What they were doing is, our staff were entering a cell, and searching it, and feel sickened afterwards,” Worden said. “They might have been going through an inmates’ property, touching the inmates’ stuff, and getting sick.”

On Tuesday, the Department of Corrections said an employee of SCI Greene was hospitalized after possibly being exposed to an unknown substance.

According to officials, the staff member was taken to a local hospital by state car to be treated for potential unknown substance exposure.

Prison staff is to use extra caution with parole violators and newly arrived inmates.

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