Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease, and he has regained millions of dollars for them. If you or a family member have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in Ohio, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Two employees at the Northland Opportunity Center on Columbus’ North Side were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Both are recovering, and one is believed to have returned to work.

The center, located in the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services (FCDJFS) building at 1721 Northland Park Avenue, shut down the drinking water fountains, under the advisement of Franklin County Public Health officials.

The facility “remains open, but the fountains remain off out of caution,” said Tyler Lowry, Franklin County director of public affairs.

Columbus Public Health assessed the building, county employees were notified of the illnesses, and notices were posted at the Northland offices.

The FCDJFS is a county, state and federally supported agency responsible for basic financial, medical, and social services programs.

Employees or visitors to FCDJFS who have recently suffered from or are currently exhibiting pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms (see below) should seek medical attention from their primary health-care provider.

Legionnaires’ disease no stranger to Ohio
The past few years have seen a handful of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in Ohio:

  • Two veterans were sickened after visiting the Chalmers P. Wylie V.A. Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus sometime after May 28.
  • In July, two residents of The Manor at Whitehall, a nursing home, tested positive for Legionella.
  • In June, two inmates at Ohio’s prison hospital, the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus, contracted Legionnaires’ disease.
  • In September 2017, a student and an employee at The Ohio State University campus in Columbus became ill.
  • In 2015, a rare subgroup of Legionnaires’ disease sickened 19 at the Lucas County Job and Family Services building in Toledo, and 11 employees required hospitalization. The serogroup-5 outbreak, which rarely results in human infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was traced to the building’s cooling tower. (Legionella pneumophila is divided into 15 serogroups [or species], with serogroup 1 being the most common disease-causing type.)
  • In 2013, the largest Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Ohio history occurred when six people died – and 39 others were sickened – at the Wesley Ridge Retirement Community in Reynoldsburg, a suburb of Columbus. A cooling tower and potable water were the sources for that outbreak.

Legionnaires’ 101

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Ten percent of people 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.

Warmer weather to blame?
Legionnaires’ disease is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires’ in the United States continues to increase,” said Laura Cooley, MD, MPH from the Respiratory Diseases Branch of the CDC.

Cooley said the increase is due to a rise in the susceptibility of the population, with more and more people on immunosuppressive medications. Also, there could be more Legionella in the environment, with warmer temperatures creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.

Seventeen of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001, according to analyses by both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The four warmest years on record all occurred since 2014, with 2017 being the warmest non-El Niño year ever recorded.

This year is shaping up to be the fourth-hottest year on record. The only years hotter were the three previous ones.

Where do Legionella live?
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

  • large plumbing systems
  • showers and faucets
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • water systems, such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems.

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, both 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).

Legionnaires’ symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms can even resemble those of flu, which is why it often goes under-reported. Symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.