Deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease

The death toll from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ in Quebec City has climbed to 13 since July, and about 176 people in total have been infected with the disease.

It is the deadliest outbreak of Legionnaires’ in Canada in 25 years.

Quebec director of public health Dr. François Desbiens said the infections seem to be under control, but it is too soon to say the outbreak is over.

“At this time, what we say is the outbreak is under control, because we don’t have new cases with the beginning of the disease after Aug. 29,” he told the CBC.

Public health investigators say the culprits are cooling towers that spread contaminated droplets of water through air conditioners. In an effort to stop the outbreak, 89 cooling towers have been inspected and disinfected.

Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia, is named for a 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Typically, the disease is caused by bacteria that can grow in water sources such humidifiers, showers, and as in the case of Quebec City, the cooling towers of large air-conditioning systems.

People most affected by the disease are those over 50 or people already in poor health. Smokers and people with chronic lung or kidney disease, diabetes, and weakened immune systems are at greatest risk. According to Health Canada, people who work on large air-conditioning systems or near other potentially fertile breeding grounds for the bacteria are also at higher risk.

Legionnaires’ Disease: Quick Facts

Symptoms to watch for include high fever, chills and a cough, as well as fatigue, headache, aching muscles, chest pain, and loss of appetite. (Not unlike other symptoms of pneumonia.) Other signs of infection could be nausea, diarrhea or a change in mental condition such as confusion or memory loss.

Experts say that anyone with symptoms of Legionnaires’ should seek immediate medical attention. The infection varies in severity from relatively mild to fatal, and many cases are treated successfully with antibiotics.

Despite the recent outbreak, the illness is rare in Canada.


Visit Health Canada for information on Legionnaires’ disease.

Sources: Reuters; Health Canada; Global News; CBC

Photo © DNY59

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