San Quentin Prison officials on Friday confirmed at least one case of Legionnaires' disease on prison premises, located on the shore of San Francisco Bay just east of Larkspur.
Officials said one prisoner had undergone tests at a hospital outside the prison facility after falling sick The tests confirmed that he had the potentially life threatening disease. He is currently in stable condition, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.
Two more inmates were hospitalized after displaying symptoms and were transported to an outside hospital for pneumonia-like symptoms, but no officials diagnosis has been made.
San Quentin has temporarily halted inmate intake as the investigation continues.
Prison officials had shut off all water to the prison Thursday, including to showers, toilets, sinks and the kitchen. Prisoners could be seen lining up with jars to receive water on the prison grounds Friday from the NBC Bay Area chopper. Water stations and a line of porta potties were also spotted.
According to a statement from CDCR Friday afternoon, the prison will resume the use of plumbed toilets inside the facility’s housing units and monitored use of water for cooking after consulting with health experts. Water sources such as bottled water and water tanks will continue to be consumed until it is deemed safe to resume normal water use.
Currently around 30 inmates are ill and have symptoms associated with Legionnaires' disease. The inmates have not been confirmed to have Legionnaires disease and were only being treated as a precaution, Dana Simas from CDCR said. All unconfirmed cases are being treated at San Quentin’s on-site medical unit, Simas said.
The CDCR is working with Marin County Public Health to identify the source of the problem. The prison will keep bringing in water until the problem has been fixed, Simas said.
Most cases of legionellosis or Legionnaires’ disease are caused by Legionella pneumophila, but all species of Legionella can cause the disease, according to the CDC. People contract Legionnaires' disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that has been contaminated with Legionella bacteria, which grows in warm freshwater environments.
Person-to-person transmisison does not occur with Legionnaires’ disease, the CDC says.
A recent Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the south Bronx sickened more than 120 people, killing 12 of them. Officials in New York identified a cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel as the source of that outbreak.
The largest outbreak — 449 cases — ever reported was traced to a cooling tower on the roof of a city hospital in Murcia, Spain in 2001. The bacterium is named after a 1976 outbreak, when people who attended the American Legion convention in Philadelphia caught the disease.
An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease each year in the U.S.
John Zuchelli and Torey Van Oot contributed reporting.