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Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreaks Spread Across Nation

Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreaks Spread Across Nation

The Golden State joins New York and Illinois in reports of significant outbreaks.

California is now seeing a significant outbreak of potentially deadly Legionnaire’s Disease:

The number of inmates being observed for possible infection with Legionnaires’ disease at San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco has jumped from 71 to 85, but the number of confirmed diagnoses held steady at six, authorities said Tuesday.

Prison authorities said they have begun restoring some freedom of movement, as well as access to the law library and hot meals to inmates at the California prison who were put on lockdown to avoid infection when the outbreak began last week.

The disease, a sometimes deadly form of pneumonia caused by a bacterium found in water systems, is transmitted when people breathe it in via steam, mist and moisture in the air. For that reason, prison officials initially shut down the plumbing in the prison, which houses 3,700 inmates and has 1,800 employees.

While an outbreak of such an illness in a prison wouldn’t necessarily be newsworthy, the state now joins Illinois and New York in reporting significant numbers of new cases of this disease. New York City has reported 100 cases in recent months with 12 dead, but Mayor Bill DeBlasio indicates the rate of infection seems to be decreasing.

The disease has claimed the lives of 8 people in Illinois, and infected almost 50. The state public health director has warned that more fatalities could occur since the disease has a two-week incubation period.

Perhaps the best known occurrence of Legionnaires’ Disease was in Philadelphia in 1976, when approximately 200 people attending a hotel convention contracted the disease and 34 died. The following video from he IAQ Video Network recaps the hazards associated with the legionella bacterium that cause the illness.

The biggest culprit in spreading the disease is poorly maintained plumbing systems, according to Center for Disease Control officials.

As New York City struggles to contain an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, two new U.S. government reports show the bacteria that causes the potentially deadly illness can take root in a myriad of water sources.

Those sources can include poorly maintained hot tubs, water fountains and cooling towers, the researchers said.

“The variety of settings and water sources implicated in the Legionella outbreaks reported here highlights the complexity of Legionella control . . . particularly in settings where susceptible persons congregate, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health-care settings,” Karlyn Beer, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues wrote.

The New York investigation has pinpointed cooling towers used for air conditioning as the source of more than 100 illnesses and 12 deaths in the South Bronx. But across the nation, improperly treated drinking water accounts for a rising proportion of outbreaks, the CDC team said in one of their two reports.

Perhaps the most important aspect of these reports, taken in their entirety, is that these significant outbreaks are in blue states… so far. In terms of public building maintenance (e.g. California’s state prison), when states spend their money on platinum pension plans, programs for illegal immigrants, and other progressive policies, that leaves much less for building maintenance. In terms of private enterprises (New York’s South Bronx hotel), when the owners and operators faces an array of fees and the politicians are more interested in glamour projects, following up on public safety issues is not a priority for either party.

However, several government officials indicate that there are other potential reasons for such a dramatic outbreak now:

“The number of cases reported to CDC has been on the rise over the past decade,” a spokeswoman for the CDC said in a statement to ABC News. “This may reflect a true increase in the frequency of disease (aging of the population, more high-risk individuals, climate), increased use of diagnostic testing, or more reliable reporting to CDC.”

Annual reported rates of Legionnaires’ disease, or legionellosis, increased 217 percent to 3,522 cases in 2009 from 1,110 in 2000, according to a 2011 CDC report. The report cautioned that actual rates were likely higher than those reported.

…Between 8,000 and 18,000 people with Legionnaires’ disease are hospitalized every year, according to the CDC.

If I were to place a bet, based on my experience, I would say the number of cases of Legionnaires’ will continue to rise…especially in areas infected by progressive policies.

Perhaps the next significant outbreak of illness will be San Francisco, where the city government is organizing “poop patrols” to deal with public defecation? When your city has to spend $3 million to clean-up excrement from the streets, that is money that can’t be used to properly maintain the plumbing within the public buildings paid for by taxpayers.

The prognosis for California, Illinois, and New York is grim, indeed.


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Last Sunday I went to the Festival of Sail in lovely downtown San Diego. Parking was a flat fee of $20.00, but very convenient. It was in an underground garage, and I walked out into a part with a huge, shallow fountain that invites people to walk through it.

It was mid-afternoon, and hot. There were a zillion kids and their watchful parents in and around the fountain. There was also a sign telling people not to drink the water, because it was recycled.

There is no such thing as kids not drinking the water. Even if they do not consciously drink it, the water ends up on their faces, and in their ears, eyes and noses.

They’re asking for it.

Not to quibble too much, Leslie, but “poor maintained plumbing” is not implicated in anything you reported.

Untreated or poorly treated water is the culprit, not the pipes.

Gary Krasner recently wrote a most interesting article on the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, published at Warner Todd Huston’s Publius Forum. The article focused on the independent research of a Brooklyn surgeon who discovered that Legionnaires’ disease is not an infection caused by a bacterium, as the CDC has concluded, but is the result of a chemical toxin. It is the oft-told story of an entrenched bureaucracy that is committed to a fixed idea and refuses to consider any conflicting evidence from any other source.

Krasner makes a persuasive case, to this layman at least. If the surgeon-researcher is correct, then the CDC does not understand the cause of the disease and therefore cannot develop an effective plan for (1) reducing the incidence of disease and (2) treating patients appropriately so as to reduce severity and mortality. Increasing numbers of significant outbreaks, as Leslie reports here, are inevitable if the correct origin of disease is not identified. Are government apparatchiks willfully marching down the wrong path, or is the Brooklyn surgeon just one kooky guy?

    Ragspierre in reply to J Motes. | September 9, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Well, ONE big problem is that really big a/c systems don’t usually use Freon as a working fluid. They use ammonia.

    Also, phosgene is readily detected. I know, having worn a detector badge in a chemical plant that produced phosgene and its progeny.

    ADDITIONALLY, when you remove someone suffering from a toxin from where that toxin is located, they TEND to get better! When someone is suffering from the effects of a pathogen, they sometimes get worse and die. Or they respond to treatment. There isn’t an incubation period for phosgene exposure. IF it’s at levels high enough to cause the symptoms noted, you’ll know it very quickly.

This may reflect a true increase in the frequency of disease (aging of the population, more high-risk individuals, climate)