Dozens under observation as Legionnaires' hits prison

AP News
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Posted: Aug 29, 2015 6:17 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of San Quentin prisoners were under observation Saturday after an inmate was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, prompting a weekend halt to visitors and limited drinking water supplies at the Northern California lockup.

An inmate who was diagnosed with the disease was hospitalized in stable condition, and three others were hospitalized after displaying pneumonia-like symptoms but they had not been diagnosed, said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In addition, about 45 San Quentin State Prison inmates are under observation for respiratory illness, although they also have not been diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, she said.

The disease, caused by a bacterium, is considered a severe type of pneumonia that can bring high fever, chills and a cough. 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.

Water from the prison's plumbing supply was being used only for inmate toilets and for cooking. Portable showers for the 3,700 prisoners were brought in Saturday.

Meanwhile, thousands of gallons and liter bottles of water have been hauled in to the 163-year-old prison north of San Francisco.

Dr. Bob Benjamin, Marin County's deputy public health officer, said through a spokesman that emergency response planning at the prison seemed to have paid off.

The prison was closed to visitors and volunteers through the weekend, though officials said the public was not believed to be in danger. None of the prison's more than 1,200 employees have been sickened.

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.

Once officials identify the source, they generally use higher-than-normal levels of chlorine to kill the bacteria. Water at the prison usually comes from a tank that can hold about 3 million gallons.