New Brunswick

Legionnaires' disease outbreak in greater Moncton reaches 9, could grow

The number of legionnaires' disease cases in the greater Moncton area reached nine on Friday, and the outbreak could grow as Public Health officials continue to investigate the source of the legionella bacteria, says the province's deputy chief medical officer of health.

2 new cases confirmed as Public Health continues to investigate source of legionella bacteria

Legionnaires' disease is caused when water contaminated with certain bacteria, shown here in a colourized electron micrograph, are inhaled into the lungs. (Janice Haney Carr/Centers for Disease Control/Associated Press)

The legionnaires' disease outbreak in the greater Moncton area has climbed to nine, with two new cases of the severe form of pneumonia confirmed on Friday, says the province's deputy chief medical officer of health.

And the number of cases could continue to increase in the coming days, said Dr. Cristin Muecke.

The incubation period after exposure to the legionella bacteria can be up to two weeks, and Public Health officials have not yet identified the source, she said.

"So that means even if a source were to be identified and controlled today, it is still possible for the next week or two that we would see new cases of people who had been exposed before that happened."

We are obviously putting all of our resources towards this to ensure that it is controlled as quickly as possible.- Cristin Muecke, deputy chief medical officer of health 

The majority of the nine people with the disease have been hospitalized, said Muecke.

She declined to release details about their condition, citing privacy, but did say they are all adults and most are over the age of 50.

Legionella bacteria can be found in both natural bodies of water and man-made water systems, such as large air-conditioning units.

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.

But the individuals don't all live or work in the same locations or in the same building, which makes tracking down the source more challenging, said Muecke.

"We are obviously putting all of our resources towards this to ensure that it is controlled as quickly as possible," she said.

Health officials are conducting extensive interviews with those affected to determine their usual activities and map out their locations.

They're also seeking input from colleagues in other provinces who have dealt with similar outbreaks before.

"There's certainly a lot of moving parts, and we need to work with multiple partners both within the city and within the health care system to make sure that we're covering all our bases. But we will be putting all of our efforts towards figuring this out."

Dr. Cristin Muecke was New Brunswick’s acting chief medical health officer in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. She warned physicians tests for the virus were in short supply. (CBC)

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.

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, said Muecke.

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 Colleen Kitts-Goguen

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