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PLN mentioned in article on Legionnaires disease in NJ jail

Star Ledger, Jan. 1, 2007.
PLN mentioned in article on Legionnaires disease in NJ jail - Star Ledger 2007

Edna Mahon inmate sick with Legionnaires'

Saturday, September 22, 2007


The Star-Ledger

Infectious disease and environmental specialists are conducting tests at the Edna Mahon Correctional Fsacility for Women in Hunterdon County to determine how an inmate contracted Legionnaires' disease while incarcerated at the state prison.

The inmate was diagnosed with the pneumonia-like illness Sept. 11 after she was taken to the Hunterdon Medical Center for an unrelated "chronic and acute medical condition," said prison Administrator William Hauck.

The inmate, who has been at the facility since April, remains hospitalized. Authorities did not identify her or release any information about her.

A prison system doctor immediately contacted the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which dispatched infectious disease and environmental specialists to the prison the next day to conduct tests.

The Department of Corrections also hired an environmental consultant who did further testing Tuesday at the prison, which houses about 1,000 inmates, Hauck said.

'Visitors should not be worried'

Legionnaires' is potentially fatal but can be successfully treated with antibiotics, health officials said. About 40 cases are reported each year in New Jersey. Symptoms include fever, chills and a cough.

No other inmates have been diagnosed with the airborne disease, which is spread when a person inhales bacterium spread from a contaminated soil or water source, such as a cooling tower or shower, said Marilyn Riley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

The discovery of the disease has not forced the prison to adjust its operation, Hauck said, adding that inmates, corrections officers and visitors are not in danger.

"Visitors should not be worried," Riley said "Generally speaking, exposure to contaminated water would come from an aerosol, like running a shower, and not from running tap water

She also said the visitation area is some distance from the section where the infected inmate was housed.

State health specialists and consultants hired by the Corrections Department took water samples to determine the source of the disease. Results of those tests are not yet completed, Hauck said.

"If you can find what you believe to be the source, you can take steps to remediate it," Riley said. "It's a pretty large complex, but in this particular case we know where this person was, so that helps us focus our search."

Disease usually occurs as isolated event

Legionnaires' disease most often affects middle-aged and older people, according to health officials. Others at risk include those who smoke, drink heavily, have chronic lung disease or lowered immune system resistance due to an underlying disease.

It typically occurs as a single, isolated event, although it has been known to afflict numerous prison inmates at once.

In 1993, 16 inmates and a corrections officer were diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease that was spread through a cooling tower at a state prison in Michigan, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One inmate died.

A similar outbreak occurred in 2002 when 16 inmates and employees at the Vermont State Office Complex, which houses the state women's prison, were diagnosed, according to the Associated Press. As in Michigan, Vermont health officials believed the complex's cooling towers were the source.

More recently, two Massachusetts inmates in the same housing unit were hospitalized in April with Legionnaires' disease, according to the Prison Legal News. Prison officials responded by flushing pipes with superheated water to kill the bacteria.