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Elliot Olsen has regained millions for people injured by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires in this Bangor cluster, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) released a public health advisory regarding a Bangor cluster of six Legionnaires’ disease cases since November.

The cluster of cases, which has resulted in one death, has occurred at a rate higher than average for the area, prompting the advisory.

The Maine CDC investigation is attempting to identify if there is a single source of the Legionella bacteria in Penobscot County to determine whether the cases are connected. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires, which is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection.

The six individuals, all of whom were hospitalized, live in the greater Bangor area and range in age from 50 to 85. It has not been determined whether Legionnaires was the cause of death of the man who passed, according to Jackie Farwell, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“Maine CDC is announcing this investigation to make the public aware, but residents in the area do not need to take any specific actions in response,” Farwell said. “Maine CDC has alerted area health-care providers so they can consider testing for the illness, which could lead to the identification of additional cases. All cases must be reported to Maine CDC.”

Over the past five years, Penobscot County has averaged three Legionella cases per year. The state of Maine reported 33 cases in 2018. There were almost 7,500 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States in 2017.

Bangor is the county seat of Penobscot County and Maine’s third-largest city behind Portland and Lewiston.

Bangor cluster: Outbreak? Cluster?

When multiple cases are reported around the same proximity and within a designated period, the terms “cluster” and “outbreak” are used. The term “community-acquired” is used when there are no commonalities; these kinds of cases are the most common.

If two or more illnesses occurred in the same general vicinity within a period of three to 12 months, the term “cluster” would be used, such as the occurrence of six cases in Bangor in such a short period.

If two or more cases are reported within days or weeks, rather than months, and occurred in a more limited geographic area – meaning officials can pinpoint a specific area where illnesses occurred – then the term “outbreak” would be used. The CDC would reclassify the Bangor cluster as an outbreak if a common source can be identified for two or more of the illnesses.

Bangor cluster: Testing uncovers Legionella

Environmental water testing by Maine CDC revealed detectable levels of Legionella in samples from the Orono-Veazie Water District (OVWD), a water utility company located in Orono that provides water for Orono and Veazie, neighboring cities of Bangor. Maine health officials confirmed that chlorine would be added to eliminate the bacteria.

Thus far, the strain of Legionella found in the Orono-Veazie Water District’s system isn’t connected to the six cases that are part of the Bangor cluster.

“Customers of the Orono-Veazie Water District may smell chlorine in their water,” Farwell told the Bangor Daily News. “This increased level of chlorine is not harmful, and the water remains safe to drink and use. Residents in the area do not need to take any action in response to the test results or higher chlorine levels.”

Maine CDC officials also assured residents that Legionella is not contracted by drinking water, so they should not avoid drinking water from this water district.

Up to 1995, when the OVWD water-treatment facility and water delivery system became fully operational, both cities had previously purchased their water supply from the Bangor Water District.

Bangor cluster: New CDC director

Dr. Nirav Shah took over as director of the Maine CDC in June. Previously, Shah was director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, where he was at the center of a Legionnaires’ disease controversy involving the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. State senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth called for Shah to resign his position after 15 veterans were killed and more than 60 were sickened during outbreaks that began in 2015 and spanned four consecutive years. During the first outbreak, there were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths.

Shah was Illinois’ director from 2015 until this February.

Bangor cluster: About 25,000 cases annually

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States yearly. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific symptoms.

Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, but those at the most significant risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.
Bangor cluster: Legionnaires symptoms

Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, other signs and symptoms develop, including:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus and sometimes blood
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.