Three campus cooling towers and three bathrooms have tested positive for Legionella bacteria on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit, according to a university communique released this week. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
The university began conducting tests after an employee who works in the Faculty Administration Building was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease on May 29. The employee, whose age and gender have not been disclosed, has been under the care of a physician since becoming ill. Their current condition is not known.
Preliminary results identified Legionella in cooling towers of the Towers Residential Suites, Purdy/Kresge Library and the College of Education Building. Remediation in the three towers has begun using the “prescribed disinfection process,” according to the university’s statement.
A private bathroom in the Faculty Administration Building, a first-floor men’s bathroom in Scott Hall, and a men’s bathroom in the Cohn Building also tested positive for Legionella. The bathrooms will be closed until they can be further assessed.
“As a result of these findings, the university will continue comprehensive testing of the campus, including potable water, to ensure all water sources are safe,” the university’s release stated. “The expert consultants will return to campus this weekend to continue sampling.
“Moving forward, we will work with the experts to re-evaluate our water treatment and monitoring protocols and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that this problem does not occur in the future.”
The university has notified the Detroit Health Department about the findings, and health department officials said they will assist WSU closely with the investigation moving forward.
Officials are unaware of any additional Legionnaires’ cases connected to the campus.
Students, employees or visitors to any of the buildings or bathrooms where Legionella was found and who have recently suffered from or are currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms (see below) should seek immediate medical attention from their health-care provider.
For updates on the university’s investigation, visit http://go.wayne.edu/fab-health.
Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs. Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms in the following forms:
- difficulty breathing
- high fever
- muscle aches and pains
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Who is most at risk for illness?
Anyone can get Legionnaires’ disease, but people most susceptible to infection include:
- people 50 years of age or older
- smokers, current and former
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with chronic lung disease
- people with compromised immune systems
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur each year, but only 5,000 cases are reported because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms. Ten percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.
How does Legionella infect a person?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually 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 number of sources, such as:
- the cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- water systems such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
- showers and faucets
- hot water tanks and heaters
- swimming pools
- hot tubs and whirlpools
- equipment used in physical therapy
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
People also can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they “aspirate” contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. That, however, is a very rare occurrence.