What is legionnaires’ disease, how is it caused and is it deadly?
Water tests discovered legionella throughout a state prison in Stockton, showing the bacteria found in a dead inmate last month is more widespread than was previously known, according to a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation email sent to staff Tuesday.
The inmate, whom the department hasn’t identified, died the first week of March after being transported to an outside hospital from California Health Care Facility. The department reported March 26 that a second inmate had tested positive for the bacteria, which can cause a severe and sometimes deadly form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease.
The prison took precautions in specific areas following the outbreak, including installing shower filters in one unit and providing bottled water. A nearby youth correctional facility also took precautions.
A CDCR official sent an email to staff Tuesday saying preliminary tests showed the bacteria had been detected “throughout the facility,” affecting all yards and a state training center.
No one should use any water at the facility that isn’t bottled or brought in from off-site, and no one should use showers without special filters, the email states.
People can contract the disease when they inhale the bacteria in water vapor; not when they drink it. Legionnaire’s disease is most harmful to older people and those with compromised immune systems, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The prison is adding the showerhead filters to other units, according to the email. CDCR officials did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
The prison initially tested 17 inmates for the bacteria, including the two positive tests along with 14 negatives and one test that was still pending, according to a March 26 press release. Tuesday’s email said 28 suspected cases had resulted in two positive tests for legionella and 26 negative results.
The bacteria wasn’t detected in the water supply from Stockton, nor was it detected in storage tanks or cooling towers, according to the email. The email advises staff to stay alert for flu-like symptoms in inmates, and directs medical staff to collect sputum samples from inmates with symptoms.