Legionnaires' disease in prison
The family of a prison doctor who died of Legionnaires disease in August 2016 is suing the State department of Corrections and Capital Technologies. It is alleged that Joseph Mollura contracted Legionnaires’ disease while working in the SCI prison in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Post article states that those responsible for the water system management knew at least two months before Dr. Mollura contracted Legionnaires disease and died, that there was Legionella bacteria in a cooling tower on the prison premises.
What was the response from prison officials?
Unfortunately, no meaningful action was taken to prevent spreading of Legionnaires' disease in prison. The inmates were only supplied with bottled drinking water.
This is an entirely inappropriate action. You cannot contract Legionnaires disease by drinking contaminated water, so the provision of bottled water will have no impact as a disease control measure. Legionnaires disease can only be caught by inhaling aerosols of Legionella contaminated water directly into your lungs. Cooling towers have long been known as a most important single source of Legionella contaminated aerosols.
It is further alleged that the authorities knew that the cooling tower in question was not being maintained to the required standard.
Legionnaires Disease - Not Acting on information can be fatal
This story has several messages that are worth drawing out. Not acting on information can be fatal. Tests should be done regularly, but more importantly, appropriate corrective action should be taken. The test results in this case were clearly ignored. This may well be because lab culture test results arrive fourteen days after the water sample is taken. This encourages an attitude of “what’s the urgency?” Rapid tests, providing results on site can help overcome this lackadaisical approach.
It is of course important to understand the problem to take the necessary action. It is a common misunderstanding, clearly still pervading in Pittsburgh, that Legionnaires’ disease is caught by drinking contaminated water. Unfortunately to catch Legionnaires' disease all you need to do is breathe in the aerosols which are associated with showers, cooling towers and even splashes from taps. Bottled water is not a suitable defensive action.
Find Out more About Legionella and Legionnaires Disease