Legionella Injury Attorney investigates Ohio Legionella Outbreaks
Legionella is a naturally-occurring bacterium that can cause severe respiratory issues and is typically contracted in communal environments. Outbreaks are commonly associated with structures that have complex water systems, like hotels and resorts, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and cruise ships.
Even though most outbreaks are preventable, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that cases of Legionnaires’ disease have more than quadrupled in recent years. The number of diagnoses grew from 1,127 in 2000 to 5,166 in 2014. The increase, according to CDC, could be the combination of an aging population, older plumbing and climate changes.
By some estimates, more than 5,000 people with Legionnaires’ disease are hospitalized every year. The health agency cautioned that actual rates were likely higher than those reported.
The recent CDC report, which examined 27 Legionnaires’ outbreaks from 2000 to 2014, stated that most outbreaks can be prevented through better water management.
In response, the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases is releasing a toolkit to help building owners and managers identify areas of risk and prevent the disease. Contact a Legionella injury attorney after infection.
The CDC warning comes as the country’s health officials focus on water safety following the shocking discovery of the contaminated drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan. In 2014, a Legionnaires’ outbreak in Flint caused 12 deaths and sickened more than 80, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
A current lawsuit filed by a legionella injury attorney against McLaren-Flint hospital claims the hospital failed to warn the public of the potential dangers of treatment at their facility after they knew their water supply was contaminated with Legionella. Over the next 17 months, multiple patients were infected.
About 20 Legionella outbreaks hit the U.S. each year. Other recent outbreaks include:
• In 2015, the worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ ever to hit New York City erupted in the South Bronx, killing 12 people and sickened more than 120.
• In 2013, two separate outbreaks of Legionnaires’ in central Ohio killed five people at a retirement center and a man who worked at an auto parts plant.
• In 2015, eleven people were hospitalized after an outbreak at an Ohio Family Services building. A cooling system tower was linked to the illnesses.
• In 2015, at least 50 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in two different outbreaks in an Illinois town. Eight people were reported dead.
• In 2015, in a California prison, six inmates were confirmed to have contracted the disease.
An outbreak in both Ohio and Georgia in 2019 has lead to numerous personal injury lawsuits.
Artificial water systems provide an environment conducive to bacterial growth and represent the likely sources of disease. The bacteria live and grow in water systems at warmer temperatures. Legionella can become a health concern if it grows and spreads in any human-made water systems, such as the following:
• Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use
• Hot water tanks and heaters
• Large plumbing systems
• Cooling towers
• Air-conditioning units for large buildings
• Decorative fountains
Legionnaires’ disease is often categorized as being community, travel or hospital-acquired, based on the type of exposure. If Legionella multiplies in a water system, the contaminated water can spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in. A common form of transmission of Legionella is inhalation of contaminated aerosols produced in conjunction with water sprays, jets or mists. (Good examples are humidifiers and whirlpool spas.)
Infection can also pose a particularly dangerous threat to susceptible hospital patients. Cynthia Whitney, chief of the CDC’s respiratory diseases branch, has said that hospitals need to be especially careful about the disease, because some patients often are highly vulnerable to infection. In one study, almost 40 percent of diagnosed cases of Legionnaires’ were hospital-acquired. In general, Legionnaires’ disease is not spread by human-to-human contact.
In theory, anyone in Ohio can be exposed to the Legionella bacterium. Further, the infective dose is assumed to be low for susceptible people; illnesses have occurred after exposures at over a mile from the source of outbreaks. Contact a legionella attorney and medical professional following infection. People at increased risk of getting sick from Legionella bacteria include the following:
• People 50 years or older
• Current or former smokers
• Heavy consumers of alcohol
• People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
• People with a weak immune system from diseases like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure
• People who take drugs that suppress (weaken) the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
• People who have undergone recent surgery, presence of nasogastric tubes, and the use of respiratory therapy equipment.
The severity of disease ranges from a mild cough to a rapidly fatal pneumonia. Legionnaires’ disease has an incubation period of 2 to 10 days. Signs and symptoms of the disease can include:
• Muscle aches
• High fever
• Shortness of breath
• Loss of appetite
There is usually only a mild cough present, though as many as 50 percent of patients report phlegm. Blood-streaked phlegm occurs in about one-third of patients.
Pontiac disease, the non-pneumonic form, is an acute influenza-like illness usually lasting 2 to 5 days. The main symptoms of Pontiac’s are similar: fever, chills, headache, malaise and muscle pain. Contact a physician and a Legionella injury attorney following infection.
Legionnaires’ disease varies in severity from a mild illness to a serious and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia. Recovery always requires antibiotic treatment, and is usually complete after several weeks.
Legionnaires’ disease usually worsens during the first week if untreated. About 10 percent of people with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the death rate may be as high as 40 to 80 percent in untreated immuno-suppressed patients. Death can occur through progressive pneumonia with respiratory failure or multi-organ failure.
Some cases result in long-term complications. A study of outbreak survivors showed the majority had a persistence of fatigue, neurologic symptoms and neuromuscular symptoms in the months after infection.
Human error caused more than half of all outbreaks studied by the CDC. Authorities often fail to clean or replace filters on hot tubs or air conditioners. About one in three outbreaks are the result of equipment problems, such as a faulty disinfection system.
“People are unnecessarily and avoidably getting sick from preventable infections,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden. Because of such damaging oversight, city management and building supervisors must be held responsible when people fall ill.
Joe Lyon is an experienced Cincinnati premises liability lawyer and Ohio legionella injury attorney. If you have suffered from a related infection, please seek legal help to curtail widespread negligence and a growing health concern.