Health officials in Virginia said that they have found Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, at seven locations in Chesterfield County. The news comes in the wake of an outbreak of 11 Legionnaires illnesses in the county’s northeast quadrant since May 1.
Officials for the Chesterfield Health District (CHD) are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to pinpoint the source of the Legionella. The most recent illness was reported Aug. 8.
Health officials said they usually expect to see about three cases a summer.
Chesterfield County Legionnaires outbreak: Legionella in 7 buildings
County officials recently announced that Legionella was discovered in the cooling tower at Greenfield Elementary School (10751 Savoy Road, Richmond). Since then, testing has revealed Legionella in six more 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, as well as the ice sheet cooling system at Richmond Ice Zone. None of the sites, however, have been linked definitively to the 11 illnesses, although they have not been ruled out either, CHD director Alexander Samuel said.
“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 Legionnaires outbreak: awaiting test results
CHD officials said they have collected samples from five other sites, with results pending:
- 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.
Chesterfield County Legionnaires outbreak: disease symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella, and it frequently begins with these symptoms:
- muscle aches
- chills and fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
By Day 2 or Day 3, symptoms often worsen to include:
- shortness of breath, called dyspnea
- coughing, which can bring up mucus or blood
- chest pains, called pleurisy or pleuritis
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- confusion and other mental changes.
Chesterfield County Legionnaires outbreak: high-risk groups
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, however, anyone over the age of 50 – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions, like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) – are at a higher risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease.
Other people more susceptible to infection include:
- organ-transplant recipients
- anyone on a specific drug protocol, such as corticosteroids
- anyone with an immune system compromised by:
- frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis or skin infections
- organ inflammation or infection
- blood disorders, such as anemia or low platelet counts
- digestive problems, such as cramping, appetite loss, diarrhea, and nausea
- delayed growth and development.
Chesterfield County Legionnaires outbreak: cooling towers
According to the CDC, cooling towers contain large amounts of water and are potential breeding grounds for Legionella. Water within is heated using a heat exchange, which provides 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 air, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If it contains Legionella, people can get sick by inhaling that vapor.
Chesterfield County Legionnaires outbreak: oversight lacking
Hospitals and nursing homes are required to provide stringent oversight of water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to Legionella. There is, however, 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,” Elliot Olsen said. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”
Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. You can contact him for a free consultation by filling out the following form and submitting it: