Legionnaires' disease sends California inmate to hospital

AP News
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Posted: Aug 28, 2015 8:47 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A San Quentin State Prison inmate has been hospitalized with Legionnaires' Disease and about 30 others have symptoms, prompting authorities to shut off water at the facility and bring in portable toilets, bottled water and large water tanks to serve thousands of inmates and employees, official said Friday.

Two other inmates also were hospitalized with symptoms, and officials were awaiting tests on whether any of the inmates with symptoms also have the potentially deadly disease, said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Symptoms typically include high fever, chills and a cough.

Officials initially said at least 16 other inmates at California's oldest prison were hospitalized but later reported that they were being treated at the prison and tested for the disease considered a severe type of pneumonia.

"As we have people come down with symptoms, we're going to test them," said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal court-appointed receiver who controls inmate medical care.

The inmate sent to a hospital needed heightened treatment while the others could be taken care of at the prison, Hayhoe said.

Test results on the remaining inmates were expected as early as this weekend as prison and Marin County health officials search for the cause.

After consulting with public health experts, the prison resumed using regular toilets and allowed the use of water for cooking.

A recent outbreak that sickened 128 people and killed 12 in New York City was traced by the city's health commissioner to a rooftop air conditioning unit at a Bronx hotel.

Legionella bacteria grow in water and spread through water molecules, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria can cause a mild infection known as Pontiac fever or the more serious infection known as Legionnaires' disease.

The disease occurs when contaminated water is inhaled into the lungs in the form of steam, mist or moisture. It is considered particularly dangerous for older people and those with underlying health issues.

Drinking water for the prison's more than 3,700 inmates was shut off Thursday after the first case was confirmed, and it will stay off until the source is found, Simas said.

Once officials identify the source, they generally use higher-than-normal levels of chlorine to kill the bacteria.

Simas could not immediately say how many portable toilets, bottled water for drinking and large water tanks were brought to the prison or how much the emergency measures cost.

None of the prison's more than 1,200 employees have been sickened.

The prison's water comes from the Marin Municipal Water District and is stored in a prison water tank that can hold about 3 million gallons, Simas said.

Marin Municipal Water District spokeswoman Emma Mahoney said in an email that the district immediately tested its water supply, and the results strongly indicate that its water is not the source of the problem. Officials were testing the water at the prison, and she and Marin County health officials said the general public is not considered to be at risk.

Marin County health officials also said the disease is not spread from person to person.

"Their emergency response planning at the prison seems to have paid off very well," Dr. Bob Benjamin, Marin County's deputy public health officer, said through a spokesman.

Benjamin initially said the prison mobilized during the night, but county officials later clarified that the mobilization was handled Thursday during the day.