A California prison inmate has died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease and a second inmate has tested positive for the disease, which is considered a severe type of pneumonia, authorities said Wednesday.
Officials said Wednesday that they are taking precautions at a prison hospital and a neighboring youth correctional facility in Stockton, south of Sacramento, while they test water sources for the bacteria.
That includes providing bottled water for drinking and washing, stopping the use of any aerosolizing equipment, shutting down showers in some areas and warning employees and patients, said Liz Gransee, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver who controls inmate medical care.
Legionella bacteria grow in water and spread through water molecules, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They 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, and is considered particularly dangerous for older people and those with underlying health issues.
The inmate died during the first week of March at an outside hospital and officials subsequently found the presence of Legionella, she said. But officials did not announce the finding until a second inmate tested positive at the prison, which houses about 2,670 inmates needing medical or mental health care.
“It doesn’t become an outbreak until you have multiple cases,” Gransee said.
Officials tested 18 other inmates at the California Health Care Facility who suffered from pneumonia in February or March. One tested positive, 14 negative and results weren’t in on three inmates.
The inmate who tested positive is in good condition at the prison, Gransee said.
Nearly 80 inmates were sickened but none died during a 2015 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, and investigators eventually blamed dirty cooling towers. Some of the same environmental testers who worked on the San Quentin case are being brought in to investigate the Stockton outbreak 80 miles to the east, Gransee said.
“This is a much smaller scale than San Quentin was,” she said. That outbreak affected the entire prison, temporarily forcing the state’s oldest prison to cancel visits, hot meals and showers and ship in water and portable toilets. By contrast, the Stockton outbreak has been isolated to a single housing facility.
Officials initially focused on two of the five housing facilities at the Stockton prison, but narrowed it to the single housing unit after tests came back negative on patients in the other unit, she said.
They are installing new shower heads with filters in that housing facility, though the source of the bacteria isn’t known. No new patients are being admitted to that unit while the investigation continues.
About 150 youth along with employees at the neighboring O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility also are using bottled water while their water supply is tested out of “an abundance of caution,” Gransee said.
“They’re looking at everything,” she said. “They’re taking samples from everywhere.”