Two hundred employees in an administrative building next to the military hospital at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in Fort Sam Houston, TX, have been relocated to a temporary workspace after two coworkers were hospitalized and treated for Legionnaires’ disease this summer, according to numerous news reports. In addition, test results are pending on a possible third case.
The two cases involve workers on post, not patients registered in the hospitals. Because the illnesses affected two people working in the same building within one year, it’s considered an outbreak, according to the Emerging and Acute Infectious Disease Guidelines.
Finding the source
By relocating the employees to a temporary workplace, the BAMC is taking an over-abundance of caution as it looks for the origin of the Legionella bacteria. The investigation seeks to determine if the cases are associated with the building or if the inffected pair has another commonality that could be the source.
Extensive testing will be conducted to “determine if the building is the source of the bacteria,” a BAMC spokesman said.
BAMC is the U.S. Army’s largest and busiest medical center, and the Army’s only military Level I trauma center. It also operates the Department of Defense’s only burn treatment facility.
CDC: About 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ annually
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 yearly. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s non-specific signs and symptoms.
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are generally found in human-made environments, such as cooling towers, air-conditioning systems, hot tubs, and spas, to name a few.
Complications of Legionnaires’ disease
After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization often is required. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.
Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:
- people 50 or older
- smokers (current or former)
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with chronic lung disease
- people with weakened immune systems.