Legionnaires’ disease found at prison hospital

By Mark Gillispie and John Seewer - Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Two inmates at Ohio’s prison hospital have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, causing the facility this week to cut off use of its tap water and install new faucets and filters.

Environmental tests have been done in hopes of finding the source of illnesses at the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus, prison officials said.

The prison hospital houses close to 600 inmates who need medical and long-term care, some who may be more vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia that in some cases can be fatal. The prison also has pregnant inmates.

A notice sent by the prison’s warden earlier this week after the second illness was confirmed said inmates were not to use the showers and advised against drinking the water. A second, separate section of the prison wasn’t affected.

Bottled water was being handed out to inmates and the prison’s 500 staff members.

Most of the faucets and showers now are safe to use after new filters were installed over the past few days, according to an internal memo sent Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press.

Some of the faucets will require special fittings and still were not safe to use, the notice said.

The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease usually grow in closed water systems. People can get sick if they inhale mist or vapor from contaminated systems, and those with compromised respiratory systems are particularly vulnerable to it.

Symptoms include breathing difficulties, coughing, fever and muscle aches.

Both the male inmates who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease have pre-existing health conditions, said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the prisons department.

The agency has been working with the Columbus Health Department and an outside consultant, she said.

The union representing workers at the prison said the two men who were sickened were in an area near each other.

Buffy Andrews, operations director for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said the prisons department has kept workers informed about the problem and acted quickly to shut off access to the water and find the source of the illnesses.

Two years ago, dirty cooling towers at San Quentin State Prison in California were to blame for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened more than 80 inmates and employees.

By Mark Gillispie and John Seewer

Associated Press