The Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Chicago, Illinois has issued a press release to inform the public that a detainee at the Cook County Jail has been admitted to Stroger Hospital with Legionnaires’ disease. (1)

Legionnaires Pneumonia
Under a magnification of 500X, photomicrograph of a lung section specimen in a case of legionellosis, due to the bacterium, Legionella pneumophila. Legionnaires’ disease, (LD), is the more severe form of legionellosis, and is characterized by pneumonia, commencing 2-10 days after exposure.

Sheriff Thomas J. Dart’s office was alerted by Cermak Health Services (a division of Cook County Health and Hospital System) to the status of the prisoner. Hospitalized since June 6 with what appeared to be basic pneumonia, the detainee has since been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe type of pneumonia that is transmitted when susceptible individuals inhale or aspirate water vapor contaminated with Legionella pneumonia bacteria.

The detainee has been incarcerated at the facility since fall 2015 (2). At this point, none of the other 9,000 inmates or corrections staff members have contracted Legionnaires’ disease. Officials are thus currently regarding this as an isolated case.

Other inmates have been removed from the victim’s tier to different cells while the Cook County Department of Facilities Management and the Cook County Health and Hospitals Systems attempt to pinpoint the source of the Legionella bacteria. Corrections staff have been advised to consult with their personal physicians if they come down with pneumonia-like symptoms (such as shortness of breath, high fever, cough, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or mental confusion).

Legionnaires’ Disease at Correctional Facilities

Due to the close quarters of most jail facilities, inmates and correctional officers are always at risk for environmentally-transmitted illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease. Recent cases of Legionnaires’ disease in prisons have included:

  • San Quentin Prison (August – September 2015); 78 people contracted LD that had been transmitted from poorly maintained cooling towers in a health services building of the aging prison;
  • Stateville Correctional Institute in Crest Hill, Illinois (August 2015);
  • Riker’s Island in New York (August 2015); and
  • Roxbury Correctional Institute in Hagerstown, Maryland (2013).

If an inmate or staff member of a correctional facility displays pneumonia-like symptoms, it is important to rule out the possibility of Legionnaires’ disease through diagnostic medical tests. The disease has a death rate of 5% to 30% when it strikes smokers, people over 50, or individuals with diabetes, COPD / respiratory disease, HIV, cancer, or other underlying medical conditions. Yet it is highly preventable through ongoing maintenance and testing of facility water systems for infestations of Legionella pneumonia bacteria.

Our law firm has obtained settlements for people who contract Legionnaires’ disease pneumonia.

Sources:

  1. Press release. “Cook County Detainee Diagnosed with Apparent Isolated Case of Legionnaires’ Disease.” Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Web. 12 Jul. 2016.
  2. Bryan, Miles. “Cook County Jail Systems Checked For Legionnaires’.” WBEZ News. Web. 13 Jul. 2016.