New Brunswick

4 more legionnaires cases in Moncton, but source site stays secret

Health officials say four more cases of legionnaires have been confirmed as part of an outbreak in Moncton, bringing the total number of people infected to 16.

Public health says 16 people have been infected during outbreak

Dr. Yves Léger, a regional medical officer of health, says revealing the site where legionnaires bacteria were found would be of 'no benefit to the public.' (Shane Magee/CBC)

Health officials say four more cases of legionnaires have been confirmed as part of an outbreak in Moncton, bringing the total number of people infected to 16.

Dr. Yves Léger, the regional medical officer of health, said all 16 are recovering and no deaths have been reported because of the illness, a severe form of pneumonia.

A cooling tower, essentially a large building cooling system, in Moncton was confirmed as the source of the outbreak, he said. The cooling tower was shut down Aug. 13 and disinfected.

"There is no risk related to the site," Léger said at a news conference Thursday. 

Legionnaires has a 14-day incubation period, and a chart Léger provided reporters indicates the last person developed symptoms Aug. 25.

Won't reveal location

Léger has refused to reveal the location, saying there's "no benefit to the public" since the tower has been cleaned. He said he understands people may be concerned but worries revealing the site may lead to people changing their plans to avoid the site.

"We're very confident that the problem has been addressed," he said. "It was addressed almost a month ago now, and we continue to follow up to make sure that it is addressed."

He said the site will be monitored for at least two months.

Cooling towers are typically used on business or industrial buildings, but Léger wouldn't elaborate on the type of building. 

Anyone who inhales mist or steam containing the bacteria can develop the disease, also known as legionellosis. The disease does not spread person-to-person.

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

Léger said most of the 16 infected had been hospitalized, with some in intensive care. Those infected range in age from their mid-30s up to around 80. Most had pre-existing medical conditions. 

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)

An outbreak was declared Aug. 1 with seven confirmed cases.

The search for the source narrowed in on 26 buildings in what officials described as western Moncton. That then shrank to one location where legionnaires bacteria were found.

The bacteria were tested against the strain found in those who were infected to confirm the cooling tower was the source of the outbreak. 

Most healthy people exposed to the bacteria don't develop the illness, health officials said. 

Léger said there's still a chance more cases will be confirmed. 

Public health officials urged anyone with pneumonia-like or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and headache, to promptly seek medical care or call 811, the province's health information line. 

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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