UPDATE: Total count of infected persons is now 27.
A retirement community in Reynoldsburg, Ohio is the center of the state’s worst Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in decades, infecting
22 27 people and leaving two dead. Officials from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working with the Ohio Department of Health and local county officials to determine the source. The Columbus Dispatch reports that one visitor and one employee of the retirement community were infected. The rest of those sickened, whose ages range from 63 to 99, are residents. No information has been released about the names or the ages of the two killed by the deadly bacteria.
Legionnaires’ disease acquired its name in 1976 when an outbreak of pneumonia occurred among members of the American Legion while attending a convention in Philadelphia. Also known as legionellosis, it is an infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.
How is legionellosis spread?
Legionnaire’s disease is acquired after inhaling aerosols (mist or steam) from a water source that contains the bacteria. Possible sources can include large cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains, showers and hot tubs. Drinking water is not a source of legionella. The disease is not spread from person to person.
According to the CDC, Legionnaires’ disease is can be difficult to diagnose because it has symptoms like many other forms of pneumonia, including:
- Shortness of breath
- High fever
- Muscle aches
Those most susceptible are individuals who smoke heavily, have chronic lung disease, or have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer. Patients with a compromised immune system are also especially at risk. The time between exposure and onset of the illness is usually 2-10 days.
Legionella bacterium is sensitive to water temperature. In 2011, there was a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Miami Valley Hospital near Dayton. Several lawsuits were subsequently filed. The suits alleged that insufficient heating of the hot-water system at the hospital was the primary reason for the outbreak.
Water temperature is only one factor in preventing an outbreak, but it is important. The Association of Water Technologies reports the following guidelines:
- Over 70°C (158°F) = 100% of the Legionella bacteria die rapidly
- 60°C (140°F) = 90% die in 2 minutes
- 50°C (122°F) = 90% die in 2 hours
- 35-46°C (95-115°F) Legionella thrives; maximum growth
- Under 20°C (68°F) Predominately dormant, but viable
While it would seem that hot water tanks should be kept as hot as possible, Ohio plumbing codes caps hot water temperatures at 120°F due to a potential risk of scalding. However it is possible for institutions to raise hot water temperatures to 140 degrees if they adopt temperature control measures that lower the water temperature at faucets and fixtures by mixing hot and cold water.
Legionnaires’ is frequently perceived as rare because many cases are not detected, and not all detected cases are reported to public health authorities. The CDC estimates that the disease infects 8,000 to 18,000 persons annually in the U.S. but others have estimated as many as 100,000 annual U.S. cases.
If you or someone you know has been affected by Legionnaires’ disease as a result of being present at Wesley Ridge Retirement Community, Elk & Elk wants to hear from you. Just call 1-800-ELK-OHIO or complete our free, no-obligation online contact form.
“Legionnaire’s outbreak at Reynoldsburg retirement community affects 22” by Danae King, The Columbus Dispatch, July 19, 2013.
“Legionella (Legionnaires’ Disease and Pontiac Fever)” Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), accessed 7/21/2013.