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Three campus cooling towers and three bathrooms have returned positive tests for Legionella bacteria on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit, according to a university statement. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
University officials said they began conducting tests after an employee who works in the Faculty Administration Building was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease on May 29. The employee, whose age and gender have not been released, has been under a doctor’s care since they became sick. Their condition is unknown.
Disinfection has begun
Preliminary results identified Legionella in cooling towers of the university’s Towers Residential Suites, Purdy/Kresge Library, and the College of Education Building. Remediation in the towers has begun using the “prescribed disinfection process,” according to the university’s statement.
A private bathroom in the Faculty Administration Building, a first-floor men’s bathroom in Scott Hall, and a men’s bathroom in the Cohn Building also tested positive for Legionella bacteria. All three bathrooms will be closed until they can be assessed again.
“As a result of these findings, the university will continue comprehensive testing of the campus, including potable water, to ensure all water sources are safe,” the university statement said. “The expert consultants will return to campus this weekend to continue sampling.
“Moving forward, we will work with the experts to re-evaluate our water treatment and monitoring protocols and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that this problem does not occur in the future.”
Wayne State: Detroit
Health Department assists
University officials said they have notified the Detroit Health Department about the findings. Health department officials said they will assist the university closely with the investigation.
Officials are unaware of any additional Legionnaires’ disease cases connected to the campus.
Students, employees or visitors to any of the buildings or bathrooms where Legionella was found and who have recently suffered from or are currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms should seek immediate medical attention from their health-care provider.
For updates on the university’s investigation, visit http://go.wayne.edu/fab-health.
Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia (an infection of the air sacs of the lungs that can produce fluid).
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms can resemble those of pneumonia or flu in the following forms:
- breathing difficulties
- muscle aches and pains
- severe headaches
- gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments.
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- water systems, like those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
- showers and faucets
- hot water tanks and heaters
- swimming pools
- hot tubs and whirlpools
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
People also can contract Legionella when they “aspirate” contaminated drinking water. That is, they choke or cough while drinking, which can cause the water to go down the wrong pipe and into the lungs. That, however, happens very rarely.
Who is most at risk?
Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, but people most susceptible to infection include:
- people 50 or older
- smokers, either current and former
- heavy drinkers of alcohol
- people with chronic lung disease
- people with weakened immune systems
- organ-transplant recipients
- people on specific drug protocols (for example, corticosteroids).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) happen in the United States on a yearly basis. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
In addition, about 10 percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.