San Quentin Faces Medical Emergency with Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak


San Quentin State Prison is taking emergency medical steps after six inmates have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe and sometimes deadly form of pneumonia, while dozens more are under observation.


The bacterial outbreak comes almost two months after California state prisons began regaining control over their prison healthcare system after nearly a decade of federal oversight and $2 billion spent on building new prison medical facilities.


Medical professionals from the County of Marin’s Department of Health and Human Services are collaborating with officials at the state prison to prevent the spreading of the disease among other inmates and prison staff.


Drs. Matt Willis and Bob Benjamin, the county’s Public Health Officer and Deputy Public Health Officer, respectively, have been in steady communications since Thursday afternoon with officials at the prison, located on the shore of San Francisco Bay just east of Larkspur.


The doctors are part of a response effort comprised of San Quentin personnel, state and federal corrections officials, and state and local environmental health sources.


Friday morning, prison officials were waiting for test results to return on more than a dozen other inmates who exhibited symptoms of the disease, which is caused by bacteria spreading through water, mist and steam. The disease is not spread from person to person. According to environmental health sources, the general community outside the prison is not at risk.


All the water to San Quentin’s housing units has been shut off for an indefinite period of time until it is determined safe to be turned on; water has been delivered to San Quentin prison by secondary sources such as bottled water and water tanks for consumption; and portable toilets have been delivered to the institution—all as precautionary health measures.


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