Source of San Quentin Legionnaire’s: the sick bay

San Quentin

A cellblock at San Quentin State Prison in April. More than 80 inmates became sick with pneumonia during an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease. The bacteria was traced to the prison medical building.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A building where the sick were sent for treatment has been identified as the source of a large outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at San Quentin State Prison this summer.

Bacteria that sickened inmates and employees at the historic prison was traced to sludge in the bottom of cooling towers atop the prison’s medical building, a prison health official said in a report to a federal judge Thursday.

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After the first case of the disease was discovered in late August, San Quentin doctors confirmed that 81 inmates had contracted pneumonia, identified by lung scans or lab tests.


Thirteen of those prisoners were sick enough to require hospitalization, but none died. Three employees at the prison also contracted Legionnaire’s disease, including one case of pneumonia, and 12 other reported cases are under investigation.

Tests showed the bacteria that commonly cause Legionnaire’s disease were found in one of San Quentin’s newest buildings, said J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed receiver who runs prison health care services.

In Kelso’s status report to the court Thursday, he said the bacteria had built up in two cooling towers on top of a medical building. The towers have since been cleaned “and the institution is back to normal operations,” Kelso wrote.

During the initial outbreak, state prison officials turned off all water for 3,700 inmates at San Quentin, then restored access to toilets and later showers.


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