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A Wayne State University Legionnaires’ disease outbreak has claimed two contractors working on a construction site, according to an alert sent to the campus community by university officials.

“The health departments in Detroit and the counties in which the workers live have confirmed the cases,” read a statement from the university, which is located in downtown Detroit. “The individuals are currently receiving medical treatment.”

No additional information – ages, genders or whether hospitalization was needed – was released.

The contractors were working on the Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, a 395,000-square-foot development scheduled to open in August.

Officials recommend that students, employees or visitors to the campus who have recently suffered from or are currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms seek immediate attention from their health-care provider.

“The disease is easily treatable with antibiotics when caught early,” the university said in its statement.

Wayne State University Legionnaires’: employee ill in May

A WSU employee who works in the Faculty Administration Building took ill with Legionnaires’ disease in late May. Subsequent testing found Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, in three cooling towers and three bathrooms on campus.

Further testing found Legionella at various levels in additional cooling towers and potable water systems at more than 20 locations on campus.

“It’s difficult to determine with any certainty how and where the workers contracted the disease,” the university said in its statement. “However, our comprehensive plan of testing and remediation is continuing.”

Remediation efforts include replacing and sanitizing equipment and increasing water temperatures. That was enacted wherever bacteria was detected.

Wayne State University Legionnaires' outbreak: 2 more sickened

A Wayne State University Legionnaires’ disease outbreak has claimed two contractors working on a construction site, according to university officials. The condition of the workers has not been released.

Wayne State University Legionnaires’: cooling tower shuttered

PathCon Laboratories, hired by the university to handle its Legionella remediation, found that all campus cooling towers – except at the Towers Residential Suites – have low or non-detectable levels of Legionella. The Towers Residential Suites’ cooling tower will be shut down until “consistently acceptable test results” are returned.

“We’re treating any detectable level as a source of remediation,” a spokesperson told the Detroit Free Press. “I suspect that we’re going way beyond what would be necessary. We’re remediating every place where anything is detectable.”

The Detroit Health Department will review WSU’s remediation efforts. Its approval will be needed before the Towers Residential Suites’ cooling tower is reactivated.

For updates on the university’s investigation, visit http://go.wayne.edu/fab-health.

Wayne State University Legionnaires’: disease facts

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia (an infection of the air sacs that can produce fluid in the lungs). Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • cough
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).

CDC: 25,000 U.S. cases yearly
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are about 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease annually in the United States. However, only about 5,000 cases are reported because of its non-specific signs and symptoms.

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (mist or vapor). The bacteria thrive in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments.

Temps between 90 and 105 degrees ideal
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says warm, stagnant water provides ideal conditions for Legionella growth. When temperatures are between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the organism can multiply. When the temp is between 90 degrees and 105 degrees, conditions are considered “ideal” for growth.

Water sources that provide the best conditions for Legionella growth include:

  • cooling towers, evaporative condensers, and fluid coolers that use evaporation to reject heat – these include many industrial processes that use water to remove heat
  • domestic hot-water systems (bathrooms, showers, drinking fountains) with water heaters that operate below 140 degrees and deliver water to taps below 122 degrees
  • humidifiers and decorative fountains that create a spray and use water at temperatures favorable to growth
  • spas and whirlpools, like those in hotel pool areas
  • dental water lines, which are frequently maintained at temperatures above 68 degrees and sometimes as warm as 98.6 degrees
  • other sources, including stagnant water in fire sprinkler systems and warm water for eyewashes and safety showers.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, but people with the greatest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • people following specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).