Two contractors working on a Wayne State University (WSU) construction site have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to an alert sent to the campus community by university officials.
“The health departments in Detroit and the counties in which the workers live have confirmed the cases,” the university said in a statement. “The individuals are currently receiving medical treatment.”
No additional information – such as the ages, genders or whether either individual required hospitalization – was announced.
The contractors were working on the Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, a 395,000-square-foot development that will include 841 beds in 575 units, a 9,700-square-foot student health center, and 17,000 square feet of retail space. The first phase of the complex, which is scheduled to open in August, is the center 11-story building with room for nearly 400 residents. The second phase, which will be completed in June 2019, consists of the two wings north and south of the central tower that are six and eight stories and add room for an additional 400 residents.
Legionella: A campus-wide problem?
In late May, a WSU employee who works in the Faculty Administration Building took ill with Legionnaires’ disease. Subsequent testing found Legionella bacteria in three cooling towers and three bathrooms. (Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.)
Further testing found Legionella at various levels in additional cooling towers and potable water systems at more than two dozen locations on campus.
According to the university statement, “it’s difficult to determine with any certainty how and where the workers contracted the disease. However, our comprehensive plan of testing and remediation is continuing.”
Remediation efforts, including replacing and sanitizing equipment and increasing water temperatures, occurred wherever the bacteria was detected, even in the smallest amounts.
One cooling tower remains shuttered
PathCon Laboratories, WSU’s outside Legionella remediation experts, has tested and retested all the cooling towers on campus and all, except the Towers Residential Suites, have been found to have low or non-detectable levels of Legionella bacteria. The cooling tower on Towers Residential Suites continues to be shut down until “consistently acceptable test results” are returned.
“We’re treating any detectable level as a source of remediation,” a university spokesperson told the Detroit Free Press. “I suspect that we’re going way beyond what would be necessary. We’re remediating every place where anything is detectable.”
The Detroit Health Department will review WSU’s remediation efforts, and its approval will be needed before the Towers Residential Suites’ cooling tower is reactivated.
Suffering symptoms? See a doctor
Officials recommend that students, employees or visitors to the campus who have recently suffered from or are currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms should seek immediate medical attention from their health-care provider. “The disease is easily treatable with antibiotics when caught early,” the university said in its statement.
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.
For updates on the university’s investigation, visit http://go.wayne.edu/fab-health.
Legionnaires’ facts and figures
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease occur in the United States on a yearly basis. 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 (generally, mist or vapor). The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.
Warm, stagnant water provides ideal conditions for growth, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At temperatures between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the organism can multiply. Temperatures of 90 degrees to 105 degrees are ideal for growth.
Water sources that provide optimal conditions for the growth of the infectious bacteria, according to OSHA, include:
- cooling towers, evaporative condensers, and fluid coolers that use evaporation to reject heat; these include many industrial processes that use water to remove excess heat
- domestic hot-water systems (including bathrooms, showers, and drinking fountains) with water heaters that operate below 140 degrees and deliver water to taps below 122 degrees
- humidifiers and decorative fountains that create a water spray and use water at temperatures favorable to growth
- spas and whirlpools, such as those in hotel pool areas
- dental water lines, which are frequently maintained at temperatures above 68 degrees and sometimes as warm as 98.6 degrees for patient comfort
- other sources, including stagnant water in fire sprinkler systems and warm water for eyewashes and safety showers.
Who is most at risk of infection?
Anyone can get the disease, but those at the most significant risk of infection include:
- people 50 years old or older
- smokers (current or former)
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- people with chronic lung disease
- people with weakened immune systems
- organ-transplant recipients (kidney, heart, etc.)
- individuals following specific drug protocols (for instance, corticosteroids).