Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Water testing at more than a dozen municipal buildings in West Orange, NJ, revealed elevated levels of Legionella bacteria at six buildings and properties, according to town officials.
The testing was ordered after a city employee was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease and a test of the West Orange Town Hall – one of two municipal buildings in which the employee worked – was positive for Legionella. The employee has since returned to the job.
Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a sometimes-deadly respiratory illness.
The Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4 and Police Headquarters tested positive for the bacteria, as did the field houses at Lafayette Park and O’Connor Park. Officials reassured the public that recreation areas at the parks were clear of Legionella.
According to West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, the township immediately shut down the water supply at all of the affected properties and ordered the same remediation efforts that were previously taken at Town Hall.
“This means filters will be installed, bottled water made available immediately, and all plumbing flushed to eliminate any bacteria,” Parisi told West Orange Patch. “We have been advised by expert consultants, including New Jersey American Water (NJAW), that these steps will fully remedy the current situation.”
NJAW released the following statement about the situation in West Orange:
“Providing safe water is New Jersey American Water’s number one priority and a responsibility we share with all our customers. Although the drinking water we deliver is treated and meets all federal and state water quality standards and requirements, the quality of that water can change once it leaves our pipes and enters domestic plumbing systems. When we became aware of the issues the Township of West Orange experienced with Legionella in the plumbing infrastructure of its Municipal Township Building, we began proactively working with Mayor Parisi, his staff, health officials and town consultants to provide expert guidance and assistance as the town works to remedy this situation. We are committed to helping the Township resolve this issue as they work to disinfect and upgrade their building systems to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for their employees.”
Before the discovery of the latest positive tests, West Orange business administrator John Sayers said that – based on expert opinions – town officials don’t believe the worker contracted the disease from the water at Town Hall since more than one person would have been likely to become sick.
Officials announced at a city council meeting they had hired Omega Environmental Services to oversee testing at all 17 municipal buildings to ensure the safety of its employees, the city’s residents, and visitors.
The water supply at Town Hall and the Department of Public Works building – the two buildings at which the employee who was sickened worked – was previously remediated.
“The following facts exist with regard to Legionella,” said Theresa De Nova, West Orange Health & Welfare health officer. “It is not contagious, person to person. … It cannot be contracted by drinking or touching water. And the way it is contracted is by inhaling contaminated water mist.”
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia (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 U.S. annually. However, 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.
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.
Factors that lead to Legionella growth
A variety of internal and external factors can lead to a Legionella problem in buildings, according to the CDC, including
- water main breaks
- changes in municipal water quality
- scale and sediment
- water temperature fluctuations
- pH fluctuations
- inadequate levels of disinfectant
- changes in water pressure
- water stagnation.
Where Legionella can grow or spread
Legionella can grow in many parts of a building’s water system that is continually wet, and certain devices can then spread contaminated water droplets. Some examples of devices where Legionella can grow and spread through aerosolization or aspiration (when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking) include:
- hot and cold water storage tanks
- water heaters
- water hammer arrestors
- expansion tanks
- water filters
- electronic and manual faucets
- faucet flow restrictors
- showerheads and hoses
- pipes, valves, and fittings
- centrally installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
- nonstream aerosol-generating humidifiers
- infrequently used equipment including eyewash stations
- ice machines
- hot tubs
- decorative fountains
- cooling towers
- medical equipment (such as CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment, bronchoscopes, etc.).
Who is most at risk?
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those 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).
What are the disease’s symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms also can resemble those of flu, such as:
- shortness of breath
- muscle aches
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.