Bacteria detected in prison's water

Ex-Roxbury inmate found to have Legionnaires'

October 04, 2006|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,sun reporter

The discovery of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease in a Hagerstown prison's water supply has prompted Maryland officials to restrict showers in one housing unit and to limit inmates and staff assigned there to drinking bottled water, prison officials said yesterday.

Prison and health officials ordered tests of the water at Roxbury Correctional Institution after a former inmate was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease a few days after his release last month, said George Gregory, a spokesman for the state prison system.

The pneumonia-like disease is spread by the release of small droplets of contaminated water, health experts say. The infected water droplets must be inhaled to cause the illness; the disease cannot be passed from person to person.

The disease can be treated with antibiotics in most cases but can be deadly for those with weakened immune systems, said Aruna Subramanian, an assistant professor with the division of infectious disease at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"It feels like pneumonia - severe cough, high fevers, headaches," she said of the symptoms. "It is a pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella. A pneumonia is an infection in the lung tissue."

State health officials discovered low levels of Legionella in an air conditioner and in the water supply in one housing unit at the Hagerstown prison when they ran tests, Gregory said.

Officials have not determined whether the former inmate contracted the disease inside the prison or after his release, Gregory said.

Subramanian said the Legionella bacterium is common and is found in low levels even in water supplies of many hospitals.

No other current or former inmates, correctional officers, staff of visitors have been reported as potentially having Legionnaires' disease, Gregory said.

Water-use restrictions in effect apply only to the housing unit where the bacteria were found, which has about 200 inmates, Gregory said. Roxbury has about 1,750 inmates.

Further testing will be done over the next week to two weeks to ensure that the water is safe before the restrictions are lifted, officials said.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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