Two Legionnaires' disease cases were reported at The Ohio State University.Two individuals on The Ohio State University campus in Columbus have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to numerous news reports.

A statement released by university officials said Columbus Public Health (CPH) informed the two – one student and an employee – that they believe there is no connection between the cases.

The source of the Legionella bacteria – which causes Legionnaires’ disease – has not been identified in either case, so it’s uncertain whether the two contracted the disease on campus or somewhere else.

The employee is a Columbus resident who is employed at the university’s Newark campus. The student is a resident of the 12-story Drackett Tower residence hall.

The student identified a water fountain at Drackett Hall as the only public water source he had used. Fountains on one side of the residence hall were temporarily shut down “out of an abundance of caution,” a university spokesperson said. The university stated that water testing was performed in all residence halls over the summer and the results came back clear of any bacteria.

The Ohio State University shut down some water fountains in Drackett Tower after two people became ill with Legionnaires' disease.
One of the Drackett Tower water fountains that was shut down.

While this is not considered an outbreak, since there are no commonalities between the two illnesses, the university said it will continue to investigate with CPH to try to identify possible university-related sources for the bacteria.

CPH says 73 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported in the Columbus and Worthington areas in 2017.

How do you catch Legionnaires’ disease? 

The Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to a range of sources, such as:

  • showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • cooling towers in air conditioning systems
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines, such as in grocery stores’ produce sections
  • hot water tanks and heaters
  • large plumbing systems

People also can catch Legionnaires’ disease by the aspiration of contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking, which can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs.

What are the complications of Legionnaires’ disease?

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases of Legionnaires’ disease, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.

Students are less prone to catching Legionnaires’ disease

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 years old or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • individuals with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients.

Even relatively healthy individuals have been known to contract the disease, although less typically.