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Somerset Prison Reports Legionella Infections

A Somerset prison is chemically treating its water supply after four inmates became infected with Legionella.

On July 26, Department of Corrections officials tested the water system at the State Corrections Institution-Somerset with preliminary results finding no traces of Legionella. However, the bacteria was found in the facility’s cooling towers.

Susan McNaughton, press secretary for the DOC, said the prison is cooperating with state agencies to eliminate the bacteria.

“We’re working with the Department of Health,” McNaughton said. “The institution is working with the Department of Corrections as well, and we are working to actually eradicate Legionella.”

The first infection was diagnosed on July 15 and the other three within the next nine days.

Two inmates were treated at local hospitals while the others were given antibiotics in the prison’s infirmary.

Inmates and employees have been given bottled water for drinking while the bacteria is being eliminated from the system.

McNaughton said the state will keep a closer watch on prison water supplies moving forward.

“With the introduction of all the appropriate chemicals that they need to put into the water source to eradicate (the bacteria) that will help it,” McNaughton said. “We’re increasing the frequency of our testing that we do on a regular basis as well. This is something that we will continually monitor for.”

The DOC conducts water testing at all of its prisons annually, according to McNaughton.

Legionella bacteria are typically found in areas of warm water including hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems and decorative fountains. Legionnaires' disease is spread through breathing in mist or water vapor contaminated with the bacteria. It cannot be transmitted person to person.

Symptoms of the infection include a cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches. Signs of the disease can be seen two to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria.

The prison holds 2,300 inmates and employs nearly 600 people.