Elliot Olsen has regained millions for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member have been sickened by Legionnaires’ disease, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

A women’s work prison in Florida’s Sumter County is dealing with a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak of 23 confirmed cases after five more cases were announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

The outbreak is the largest ever at a BOP facility.

Prison officials at Coleman Correctional Complex – the largest women’s prison in the country – said they are working with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH)  to locate the source of the Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Coleman’s satellite camp is a minimum-security facility that houses 409 inmates.

“In conducting this investigation, the health and safety of staff, inmates and the public are the Bureau of Prisons’ highest priority,” according to a news release from the BOP. “The BOP uses a comprehensive approach to managing infectious diseases in federal prisons that includes testing, appropriate treatment, prevention, education, and infection control measures. Staff and inmates have been notified about this situation, and … Coleman staff are prepared to take any additional steps as needed.”

Florida prison outbreak: FDOH mum so far

A BOP spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the prison is working with FDOH officials on a plan to monitor for new cases, manage current ones and take “necessary precautionary measures.”

FDOH officials, however, won’t discuss what the department’s role is, how it is helping, or even whether it considers the prisoners at the facility to be part of the population it serves.

“If this was happening at a local hospital, they’d probably have a little bit more to say,” said David Krause, the state toxicologist at the FDOH from 2008-11.

Florida prison outbreak: oversight needed

In 2015, San Quentin State Prison in California recorded 13 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and more than 80 cases of pneumonia. The source of that outbreak was contaminated cooling towers in a health services building.

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to bolster oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of other large, non-medical buildings, such as prisons.

“There aren’t a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium or a large building,” said Elliot Olsen, one of the few lawyers in the U.S. who can call LD an area of specialty. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”

Florida prison outbreak: more to come?

There is concern that the outbreak could grow, since the bacteria still could be circulating in the complex. It’s a confined, densely populated environment, a situation that officials called “troubling.”

Both inmates and prison staff have been notified about the outbreak, and staff members are prepared to take additional steps as needed, according to the news release.

“The (FDOH) should be able to look at the epidemiological data and tell if it’s associated with a single water heater source or whether it’s a cooling tower outside the building that’s affecting the whole prison,” Krause said.

BOP officials said two recirculating pumps and point-of-use filters for shower heads and sink faucets were installed, but they did not say whether cooling towers were on site.

Florida prison outbreak: possible sources

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States every year, but because of the disease’s vague symptoms, only 5,000 cases are reported.

Legionella is contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:

  • water systems of large buildings
  • large plumbing systems
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • swimming pools, whirlpools, hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.
Florida prison outbreak: symptoms

Legionnaires’ disease generally develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. It frequently begins with the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, other symptoms develop, including:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus or blood
  • shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • chest pains (pleurisy)
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and in other parts of the body, including the heart.

Florida prison outbreak: woes aplenty

As if the Legionnaires’ outbreak wasn’t enough, one case of scabies (a skin infestation caused by mites) also was confirmed. Prison officials already were reeling from allegations of rampant sexual abuse and retaliation at the prison.

The Central Florida prison is where former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is serving her sentence on 18 felony convictions, including fraud and tax crimes. She was convicted in 2017 and is scheduled for release in late 2023.