Legionnaires’ Disease Update: 14 Cases Now Confirmed

For immediate release:
August 9, 2002

Contact: John Howland Jr.
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON—As of 1:30 p.m. Friday, health officials investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Washington County have identified 14 confirmed cases, most of them involving people who live or spend time in Waterbury. In addition, two people were reported to have developed a milder form of infection with Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes the disease.

The most recent onset of illness in the identified cases was August 1.

An estimated 35 people who exhibited symptoms consistent with the illness have tested negative and testing continues.

Health Department epidemiologists have been interviewing individuals who have contracted the illness.

“Evidence currently points to an outdoor source of the bacterium in Waterbury, although finding the exact source is unlikely,” said Dr. Jan K. Carney, Vermont Health Commissioner.

“We are focusing our attention on cooling towers,” Carney said. “Two cooling structures at the state office complex and one at a nearby business have already been cleaned and disinfected.”

Nationally, bacteria growing in cooling towers has been associated with outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is not passed from person to person. People get it by inhaling mists that contain Legionella pneumophila.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacterium is a “ubiquitous aquatic organism that thrives in warm environments” and is found in an estimated eight out of 10 cooling towers.

A sample taken late last week from one cooling tower in the state complex tested positive and other environmental test results are pending. However, finding the bacteria in the cooling tower does not prove that this tower was the source of people’s infection.

No restrictions have been recommend for activities in Waterbury or elsewhere, but health officials have asked that people be aware of the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease—fever, chills, severe muscle aches, cough, difficulty breathing—and see a doctor if these symptoms develop.

Because there can be up to 10 days between the time a person is exposed and when symptoms appear, health officials expect additional cases to be confirmed in coming days.

Most people who are exposed to Legionella do not get sick or else develop only a mild illness. The illness most often affects middle-aged and older persons, particularly those who smoke cigarettes or have chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions.

For more information on Legionnaires’ disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website—www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/legionellosis_g.htm

Details of the confirmed cases: