Legionella bacteria discovered in HVAC system at Brazos County jail

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria.
Brazos County Detention Center
Brazos County Detention Center(KBTX)
Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 8:16 PM CDT

BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - Brazos County officials received test results Wednesday indicating the presence of Legionella bacteria in the HVAC system of one of the housing units at the Brazos County Jail. When the Sheriff’s Office was notified of the test results, approximately 100 inmates were moved immediately as a precaution, according to the agency. Testing was initiated following an employee being diagnosed, said the sheriff’s office.

The following information has been distributed to all staff and inmates:

“We are writing to inform you of a recent development within the facility that we believe is of utmost importance. We have detected the presence of Legionella bacteria in the air handlers of Housing Unit 2.

First and foremost, all inmates from Housing Unit 2 have been removed from the affected area to ensure their safety. Comprehensive testing and treatment of the facility’s air handling and water systems will be conducted to eliminate the presence of the bacteria.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. It is not spread person-to-person but through small droplets of water in the air that are breathed in. It’s important to note that most people exposed to Legionella do not become ill. People at higher risk of illness are those with a weakened immune system, those 50 years or older, smokers, and people with chronic lung disease. Symptoms may include fever, chills, muscle aches, and cough, which usually start 2-10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Currently, there are no known cases in the facility. In the event any inmate or staff member shows signs or reports these symptoms, they will receive immediate medical attention. Our health team is well-equipped and ready to handle and treat any possible cases.

The health and safety of our inmates and staff are our top priority, and we are taking all necessary actions to best contain the situation and prevent any health risks. We are working closely with health experts to monitor and handle this situation effectively. You will be updated on the progress and any changes that might occur. We are here to answer your questions or address any concerns you may have regarding this issue.

We appreciate your trust and patience as we work through this situation.”

Dr. Jeffrey Cirillo, a Regents’ professor in the Department of Microbial and Molecular Pathogenesis at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, says Legionella bacteria is unique in its ability to survive in almost any water environment.

“The problem is when that water system interacts with humans that it sometimes creates an aerosol and so the airborne droplets that occur can then be inhaled into your lungs and the bacteria survives that process of traveling through the water and getting into the lungs, and it causes a pneumonia in the lungs relatively frequently,” Cirillo said. “That pneumonia persists and can cause a very acute disease called Legionnaires Disease that then can sometimes result in death. So there’s a grave concern to find it in a water system that could expose people to it.”

He says it’s not often spread from person to person but rather the environment. He says it can be difficult trying to address the issue.

“You want to clear it out, you want to treat it well, and then you want to try to remove any core engineering,” Cirillo said. “Sometimes that’s a corner in a pipe, or it’s a ventilation area where there’s some dampness in it. You want to remove all of that. If the water system is functioning properly and you have good flow, you have good temperature control, usually you can prevent this from producing large numbers of bacteria that result in infection.”