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Officials investigate Legionnaires’ outbreak after Stockton inmate’s death

Officials investigate Legionnaires’ outbreak after Stockton inmate’s death
California Health Care Facility, which opened in 2014 in Stockton, serves more than 2,000 inmates. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

California officials are investigating cases of Legionnaires’ disease at a prison in the Central Valley after an inmate died of the disease.

A prisoner at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton — a state facility for inmates with health issues — died at a hospital recently and was then discovered to have been infected with Legionnaires’, the state corrections department said. Legionnaires’ is a type of pneumonia.

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Upon learning the inmate’s diagnosis, corrections officials administered Legionnaires’ tests to 16 other patients at the Stockton facility who also had pneumonia, the corrections department said in a news release late Tuesday.

One tested positive for Legionnaires’ and 14 tested negative. One inmate’s results are still pending, officials say.

The prison has a total of 2,704 inmates.

Legionnaires’ disease spreads when people breathe in water droplets containing bacteria known as Legionella. Outbreaks typically occur when a building’s water or cooling system becomes contaminated.

The illness does not spread from person to person.

“The source of Legionella is still under investigation,” the corrections statement said. “In an abundance of caution, CHCF is providing bottled water for drinking and hygienic functions, halting the use of any aerosolizing equipment, shutting down the use of showers in specific areas and providing education to both staff and patients.”

Most people who come into contact with Legionella don’t know. People most susceptible to developing Legionnaires’ disease are those 50 and older, smokers, people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems or those with cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately 6,000 people are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease nationwide each year, and about 1 in 10 die from it, according to the CDC.

The last major Legionnaires’ outbreak in California was in 2017 and centered on Disneyland; 22 people fell ill and one died. In that outbreak, state officials pointed to the amusement park’s air-conditioning system, which carried high levels of Legionella bacteria.

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