British Columbia

Surrey Walmart reopens after legionnaires' disease outbreak

Health officials say anyone who was in Surrey's Guildford neighbourhood in the past 10 days and is showing symptoms such as coughing, fever, shortness of breath or fatigue should see a doctor.

Fraser Health Authority confirms 7 cases under investigation; no health risk inside mall, says owner

A Surrey Walmart was closed Friday because of an outbreak of legionnaires' disease. It reopened on Saturday morning. (Stephanie Tobin/CBC)

A Walmart at the Guildford Town Centre mall in Surrey that had closed Friday due to an outbreak of legionnaires' disease was reopened Saturday morning. 

Fraser Health Authority said on Friday seven cases of the respiratory infection have been confirmed in the past two weeks.

The authority has identified the bacteria that causes the disease in the store's cooling towers, but it said that doesn't mean they were the source.

Anika Malik, Walmart Canada's director of corporate affairs, said in an email that the company was contacted by the health authority investigating the source of the disease and chose to voluntarily close its store at Guildford Town Centre Friday.

It has since reopened but it will not be selling refrigerated or frozen products until the coolers are turned back on. The refrigeration units will remain off until a public health inspection takes place, Malik said.

Legionnaires' disease is a severe pneumonia caused by the bacteria legionella, which can grow and spread in building water systems that aerosolize water such as cooling towers, hot tubs that aren't regularly drained, decorative fountains and large plumbing systems.

Individuals can get the disease by breathing water droplets containing the bacteria, although most healthy people don't develop the disease. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, fever, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Fraser Health medical officer Dr. Aamir Bharmal said the Walmart cooling towers tested positive for legionella, but the health authority is still investigating if there are other possible sources in the Guilford neighbourhood.

He said the Walmart has been responsive to the authority's recommendations to close its cooling towers, conducting deep cleans and remediation, as well as testing and sampling to make sure the bacteria is gone before reopening the towers.

Fraser Health continues to test samples and interview patients to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, he said.

Bharmal said the disease can be treated with antibiotics and recommends that anyone experiencing symptoms see a medical professional.

Those at higher risk for developing pneumonia are the elderly, smokers, people with chronic lung conditions and those with compromised immune systems.

Mall safe, says its owner

Real estate company Ivanhoe Cambridge, the owner of Guildford Town Centre, said in a statement that Walmart is a separate building with its own cooling systems.

The company said they have worked with the Fraser Health Authority and that there is no risk to public health inside the mall. 

Guildford Town Centre has remained open for business. 

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said legionella infections are rare in the province, with only 34 cases reported between 1999 and 2008.

If 100 people are exposed to legionella, Public Health Canada said fewer than five will get legionnaires' disease.

With files from Canadian Press

Read more from CBC British Columbia

With files from Rafferty Baker and The Canadian Press


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