Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for clients harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member got sick in this Chesterfield County outbreak, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Virginia health officials have found Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, at seven locations in Chesterfield County, including three schools and a hospital.

There have been 11 confirmed Legionnaires cases in the northeast quadrant of the county since May 1, the most recent confirmed Aug. 8. Local health officials said they usually expect to see an average of three cases throughout a summer.

The discovery comes weeks after officials for the Chesterfield Health District (CHD) announced they are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to pinpoint the Legionella source.

Chesterfield County outbreak: 7 locations

Last week, Chesterfield County officials announced that Legionella bacteria was discovered in the cooling tower at Greenfield Elementary School, 10751 Savoy Road, Richmond. Since that time, testing has revealed Legionella in six additional buildings:

  • Falling Creek Middle School, 4724 Hopkins Road, North Chesterfield.
  • Johnston-Willis Hospital, the only state-authorized Level III Trauma Center in Chesterfield County, 1401 Johnston Willis Dr., North Chesterfield.
  • Midlothian Middle School, 13501 Midlothian Turnpike, Midlothian.
  • Reynolds Metals Co., 2001 Reymet Road, North Chesterfield.
  • Richmond Ice Zone, an ice skating rink at 636 Johnston Willis Dr., North Chesterfield.
  • U.S. Defense Supply Center Richmond, 8000 Jefferson Davis Highway, Richmond.

Legionella was found in the cooling towers of five buildings and the ice sheet cooling system at Richmond Ice Zone.

“Because there were no common water or facility exposures identified among cases,” according to the CHD, “cooling towers became a suspected mode of transmission.”

Chesterfield County outbreak: results pending

CHD officials said they have collected samples from 12 sites within a common geographical area. Other sites that were tested, with results pending, include:

  • Aleris, 1801 Reymet Road, Richmond.
  • Hopkins Road Elementary School, 6000 Hopkins Road, North Chesterfield.
  • Kaiser Aluminum, 1901 Reymet Road, Richmond.
  • Meadowbrook High School, 4901 Cogbill Road, North Chesterfield.
  • U.S. Marine Corps Services Center, 6000 Strathmore Road, North Chesterfield.

None of the sites testing positive have been linked definitively to the 11 Legionnaires cases, but they have not been ruled out either, according to CHD director Alexander Samuel.

“The risk to residents or visitors to Chesterfield County remains small,” Dr. Samuel said. “The health department continues to make every effort to identify cases of Legionnaires’ disease and will continue to work with facilities to remediate any potential source of exposure.”

Chesterfield County outbreak: high risk

The risk of getting sick from a building’s water supply is very low, especially for healthy individuals. As a matter of fact, most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick.

Anyone over the age of 50, however – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.

Other people more susceptible to infection include:

  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages.

The list also includes anyone with an immune system weakened by:

  • frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis or skin infections
  • organ inflammation and infection
  • blood disorders, such as low platelet counts or anemia
  • digestive problems, such as cramping, appetite loss, diarrhea, and nausea
  • delayed growth and development.

The most important thing you can do is to get medical attention right away if you start exhibiting symptoms.

Chesterfield County outbreak: symptoms

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

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

By the second or third day, other 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 in other parts of the body, including the heart.

Chesterfield County outbreak: oversight lacking

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to provide stringent oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to Legionella. However, there is little regulatory oversight of schools, apartments, hotels, and other non-medical buildings.

“There’s not a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium, or a large building,” said Elliot Olsen, who has filed Legionnaires lawsuits on behalf of patients and their families for more than two decades. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”

Chesterfield County outbreak: cooling towers

Cooling towers contain large amounts of water and are potential breeding grounds for Legionella, if they are not properly disinfected and maintained, according to the CDC. Water within cooling towers is heated via heat exchange, which is an ideal environment for heat-loving Legionella to grow.

As the cooling tower moves air through a recirculated water system, it releases a “considerable amount of water vapor” into the atmosphere, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If it contains Legionella, people can get sick by inhaling that vapor.