New Brunswick

Legionnaires' disease investigation focuses on 26 Moncton buildings

While no new cases of legionnaires' disease have been reported in Moncton, the search area for the source of the current outbreak has been narrowed.

Nine cases of the potentially fatal disease are believed to be related

Dr. Yves Leger, regional medical health officer holds a kit to test water samples for live bacteria related to legionnaires' disease. (Radio Canada)

While no new cases of legionnaires' disease have been reported in Moncton, the search area for the source of the current outbreak has been narrowed.

That investigation is concentrating on testing the cooling towers on 26 buildings in western areas of Moncton, said Dr. Yves Leger, regional medical officer of health.

Cooling towers are air-conditioning units on large buildings. 

Nine cases of legionnaires' disease have been diagnosed and linked to the outbreak, a number that hasn't changed since last Friday. 

"Fortunately, all cases are recovering and no deaths have been recorded at this time."  

All cases related

All nine cases, all adults and most over the age of 50, were hospitalized. 

Health officials believe all nine cases are related because the affected individuals all live or work in the greater Moncton area, and all have fallen ill within the past month.

"Legionnaires' disease is not a disease that is spread from person to person, but it's typically spread to an individual when he or she breathes in droplets that are contaminated with bacteria usually from an environmental source," said Leger. 

Public health officials are focusing on the western side of the city, trying to narrow the search to one cooling tower there. Leger said this path is based on information provided through extensive questionnaires and wind data in that area.

Different kinds of tests are being performed on samples being taken from the cooling towers, and some results could take weeks, he said. 

Bacteria can be inhaled in steam

Anyone who inhales mist or steam containing the bacteria can develop the disease, also known as legionellosis.

It can be treated with antibiotics but often requires hospitalization and can be fatal if left untreated.

Anyone exhibiting pneumonia-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and headache, is encouraged to seek medical attention or to call Tele-Care, the province's health information line, at 811.

Public Health says investigators will also try to reproduce Legionella bacteria in a laboratory from water samples collected from cooling towers. (Radio-Canada)

Symptoms usually start between two and 14 days after exposure to the bacteria and can also include mental changes, such as confusion, disorientation, hallucination and memory loss.

Complete recovery can take several months.

Who's at risk

Those considered most at risk include people over the age of 50, people with weakened immune systems or chronic diseases, and smokers and alcoholics.

People who work with constructed water systems, such as air-conditioning system maintenance workers, are also considered at increased risk, Cristin Muecke, the deputy chief medical officer of health, said earlier.

Air-conditioning units in homes and cars do not use water to cool, so they don't pose a risk.

Legionnaires' disease can be diagnosed based on clinical symptoms and confirmed by testing samples from the lungs, blood and urine.

In New Brunswick, 28 cases of legionnaires' disease were reported to the provincial government between 2015 and 2018.

With files from Louis-Philippe LeBlanc, Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon, Colleen Kitts-Goguen

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