Elliot Olsen has extensive experience with Legionnaires’ disease cases. If you or a family member were sickened in this Pequot Highlands outbreak, please give Elliot a call at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed at the Pequot Highlands apartment complex in Salem, Massachusetts, and tests of the water system were positive for Legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease.

The Salem Board of Health notified owners of Pequot Highlands, which is located at 12 First Street, that two residents were sickened with the severe form of pneumonia, which is spread by aerosolized water containing the bacteria. No information was provided on the condition of either patient or whether they required hospitalization.

The timeline of events:

  • Oct. 3: The Salem Board of Health notified Pequot Highlands apartment management of the two cases.
  • Oct. 5: Management notified residents.
  • Oct. 7: RPF Environmental and The Metro Group, Inc. were hired for environmental testing.
  • Oct. 17-18: Management held meetings for residents to inform them of the findings and the steps being taken to remedy the situation.

Pequot Highlands management recommended residents to leave if possible, and it they stay, they should avoid showering or filling sinks too quickly to avoid water vapor.

Treatment of the complex’s water system began over the weekend. Other remediation efforts scheduled include the replacement of shower heads and water-faucet aerators.

The water system will be retested after completion of the treatment. According to management, regular testing will occur to ensure the test results continue to show safe levels.

Pequot Highlands outbreak: symptoms

If you are a resident, employee, or recent visitor to the Pequot Highlands and are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, you should seek care from your health-care provider. Symptoms often can be mistaken for the common flu, and they usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella.

Initial symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus or blood
  • shortness of breath, also called dyspnea
  • chest pains, also called pleurisy or pleuritis
  • 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.

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — may produce signs and symptoms, including a fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually manifest within two to five days.

Pequot Highlands outbreak: high risk

The majority of people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have a chronic lung condition – 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
  • people with suppressed immune systems.

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is almost always necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death – and about 10 percent of those infected will die from the infection.

Pequot Highlands outbreak: legionellosis

Legionellosis is the collective term for the two diseases caused by Legionella bacteria: Legionnaires’ disease, which is also called Legionella pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a less-severe illness.

Because many symptoms are similar to those of the common flu or pneumonia, legionellosis – and more specifically, Legionnaires’ disease – is often overlooked or undiagnosed, leading to it being underreported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For Legionnaires’ disease to be classified correctly, specific testing and diagnosis must be done, and those tests often are not ordered. It’s not required for physicians to order Legionella-specific testing when a patient presents with pneumonia.

Pequot Highlands outbreak: lack of oversight

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to bolster oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella bacteria. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of 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.”