Legionnaires’ case confirmed in Wilson County

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By Janet Conner-KnoxTimes Staff Writer


The Wilson County Health Department along with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have been working all week with a local facility where one person has been diagnosed with a case of Legionnaires’ disease.


And two other possible cases are pending.


Legionnaires’ is a form of bacterial pneumonia. A person may develop Legionnaires’ if they are exposed to Legionella through breathing contaminated mist or vapor.


Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen said there hasn’t been any deaths at this facility as a result of the disease.


“The patients involved are recovering,” Ellen said. “Legionella is not transmitted person to person. At this time, our health department is not aware of any other associated cases of the disease.”


Health department spokesperson, Joyce Wetherington, said they are not permitted to release the name of the facility at this time.


“We want to acknowledge the fact that they have been wonderful to work with,” Wetherington said. “They have been cooperating completely. They have been very accepting of taking care of what needs to be done.”


Wetherington said the state health department has been in touch with the Centers for Disease Control about this situation.


This time Legionnaires’ disease was discovered when a patient from the facility was taken to the emergency room at Wilson Medical Center, Wetherington said.


“The person got sick with pneumonia and when they did the test on their urine, it showed up,” Wetherington said. “Normally a person has fever and or pneumonia as a symptom of the disease.”


Wetherington said if you have fever or pneumonia, please go see your doctor.


“If you don’t have a doctor, go to the emergency room,” Wetherington said.


Wetherington said the samples of Legionella were found in the facility’s hot water heater and the cooling tower.


“They collected several samples from different places in the facility,” Wetherington said.


The local health department took guidance from the state when giving the facility recommendations. The facility was advised to:


• Keep water between 140 and 160 degrees.


• Follow full water restrictions with no showering, no oral consumption of tap water, no shaving, and no tooth brushing with tap water. They were also told to be careful of splashing water.


• Superheat the water system and replace all shower heads.


• Engage the services of engineering consultants to perform an evaluation and hyperchlorinate the potable water system as soon as possible.


• Identify any patients who may have symptoms of pneumonia such as fever, coughing or shortness of breath.


• Make no new admissions to the facility.


The restrictions will be in place until the results are back from the engineering firm, Wetherington said.


Wetherington said the facility is allowed to do laundry and wash dishes.


“Emergency management has also been called in and they are working on trying to get free-standing water stations in the facility for hand washing,” Wetherington said. “They are trying to get the free-standing water stations in by tomorrow (Saturday).”


Wetherington said this case of Legionnaires’ disease should not alarm the public.


“The bacteria can be found in water in most places — work and home — but most people don’t get sick from it because your immunities can fight it off when you are healthy,” Wetherington explained. “Usually when a person gets sick it is because they have respiratory problems or they are not healthy or they are elderly with diminished health.”


Ellen said this isn’t the first case of Legionnaires’ disease in Wilson County.


“Last year, 11 cases were reported in Wilson County — none were fatal,” Ellen stated. “The bacteria that causes the disease is found naturally in the environment. Certain types of environmental conditions are more conducive to Legionnaires’ contamination such as specific types of warm water environments, particularly tanks, cooling towers of air conditioning systems of large buildings, hot tubs or whirlpool spas.”


While Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal, most people recover with antibiotic treatments, Wetherington said.


The local health department will be meeting today with the state to stay on top of this issue, Wetherington said.



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