New Brunswick

Moncton outbreak of legionnaires' disease declared over

Public health officials have declared an end to the outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Moncton. The outbreak sickened 16 people who are all recovering.

16 people became ill this summer with severe form of pneumonia

Dr. Yves Léger, the regional medical officer of health, says the legionnaires' disease outbreak announced Aug. 1 ended Sept. 10 because no new cases had been identified since August. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Public health officials have declared an end to the outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Moncton and will begin looking at ways to prevent future outbreaks.

Sixteen people became sick with the severe form of pneumonia over at least two months this summer, and 15 were hospitalized. All are recovering and no deaths were reported.

"Tuesday of this week marked the 28th day from the date at which the source of the outbreak was fixed," Dr. Yves Léger, a regional medical officer of health, said at a news conference Thursday.

"I'm therefore happy to announce that the legionella outbreak was declared officially over on that day."

Public Health has confirmed that a cooling tower at a company's building in western Moncton was the source but won't disclose the specific location.

Such towers are components of large air-conditioning systems. Hot water is sprayed on plastic frames, causing heat loss.

Water is collected at the bottom of the tower, which can become a breeding ground for legionella bacteria. 

The bacteria are present in many natural waterways, but cooling towers have been pinpointed as the source for many outbreaks. 

Mist from the cooling towers that contains the bacteria can be carried into the surrounding environment, where people breathe it in. The illness is contracted by breathing in that mist. It does not spread person-to-person. 

A 1996 outbreak in Quebec City led to a report calling for a cooling tower registry to help officials pinpoint equipment when searching for the source of outbreaks. It also called for tougher regulations for inspecting and maintaining the towers. 

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume lamented the lack of action on a call for a cooling tower registry in Quebec after his city suffered a second outbreak of legionnaires' disease in 2012. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec City mayor lamented the lack of action to implement the changes in 2012 when another outbreak in that city left 13 dead and more than 180 sick. The province then put the registry and other rules in place to try to prevent future outbreaks. 

Léger said proper maintenance of cooling towers could reduce the risk of outbreaks. 

Most provinces lack similar rules

New Brunswick doesn't have rules similar to Quebec. 

"Really at this point in time and in most provinces in Canada, there really aren't any requirements" regarding cooling tower maintenance and testing, he said. 

Such rules may be recommended in a report about the Moncton outbreak Public Health will prepare in the coming months about how the outbreak was handled and possible improvements. 

"I think the important part is that we've recognized the deficiencies, or the issues, that need to be addressed," he said. "Hopefully, this will be the impetus to address these issues." 

Source not disclosed

Léger again wouldn't say where the cooling tower was specifically located that caused the outbreak. 

The cooling tower was shut down and cleaned Aug. 13.

"That site does not pose a risk to the public any more, and I would actually say that it is the safest site in town based on what we know and how often we follow up on that site," Léger said. 

He thanked a variety of health, city and business officials who he said played an important role in helping track down the source cooling tower. 

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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