Legionnaires’ Disease May Break Out In San Quentin

There may be a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in San Quentin.

San Quentin, a well-known prison in California, had to turn off water to the building after a case of Legionnaires’ disease was diagnosed.

So far, one inmate in San Quentin was hospitalized with the disease, but he’s not the only one affected. It seems that 30 other inmates are presenting with symptoms of the pneumonia-like disease.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can include a high fever, headache, shortness of breath, coughing that produces mucus or blood, chest pain, confusion, and chills.

According to the Mayo Clinic, although Legionnaires’ disease is mostly considered a lung disease, it can cause infection to spread to the heart, as well as other areas of the body.

There is a milder version of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever.

As a result of the possible Legionnaires outbreak, San Quentin authorities shut off water to the prison and brought in portable toilets, bottled water, and water tanks. They also forbade showering and cooking with water.

“Fortunately, Legionnaires’ is not an infectious disease — it cannot be transmitted person to person. It is transmitted through aerosolized water [such as steam], or inhaling contaminated soil,” said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the team responsible for California inmate healthcare.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contractible by contact with an infected person. Instead, people become infected when they inhale some form of contaminated water. That water can be in the form of mist, steam or any other kind of inhalable moisture.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been searching for the source of the Legionnaires’ disease and testing all inmates that show any pneumonia-like symptoms.

After consulting with experts, the CDCR has allowed cooking in San Quentin to resume and regular toilets to be used. They are still banning the consumption of tap water and showers until the source is found.

There are more than 3,700 inmates in San Quentin and more than 1,200 employees. If the source of the Legionnaires’ disease is not found quickly, all of the people exposed to the infected water could be at risk.

Legionnaires’ disease is not necessarily fatal. In fact, it’s not even really rare. Most people are able to overcome the disease without lasting effects, but in people with underlying illnesses and the elderly, the disease could turn deadly.

Anywhere from five to 30 percent of people who get Legionnaires’ disease could die.

Tests on the inmates are due back some time this weekend.

[ Image courtesy of Justin Sullivan/Getty Images ]