Chesterfield Health District Investigating Increase in Legionnaires’ Disease

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 25, 2019

For More Information Contact Lorrie Andrew-Spear – Lorrie.Andrew-Spear@VDH.virginia.gov

Chesterfield Health District Investigating Increase in Legionnaires’ Disease

The Chesterfield Health District (CHD) is investigating an increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with the northeast quadrant of Chesterfield County.  Since May 1st, there have been 10 confirmed cases among older adults and persons with other medical conditions.

“The risk to residents or visitors to Chesterfield County is very small,” said Chesterfield Health District Director, Dr. Alexander Samuel.  “Out of an abundance of caution, the health district recommends that individuals who become ill with pneumonia-like or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and headache promptly seek medical care.”

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Legionella bacteria, which naturally occur in lakes and streams. Legionella can become a health concern if it is aerosolized (into small droplets) in private water systems like cooling towers (part of the air-conditioning system for large buildings), hot tubs and decorative fountains and people breathe in the bacteria.  People do not get ill from Legionella by drinking water.  Home and car air conditioning units do not use water to cool, so they are not a risk for Legionella.

“Legionnaires’ disease is not generally spread person to person or by drinking water,” added Dr. Samuel. Chesterfield county drinking water supplies are treated to kill Legionella bacteria.

The CHD is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify possible sources of exposure to Legionella. If any sources are identified, CHD will recommend strategies to stop the spread of Legionella. Investigations into increased cases of Legionnaires’ disease are complex. It is often not possible to determine the origin of the bacteria that infected people.  The investigation is currently aimed at ruling out possible sources.

Most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. People over the age of 50, people who smoke, and people with weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics.

According to CDC, the rate of reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease nationwide has grown by nearly five and a half times since 2000. The increase may be due to increased awareness and testing, more people being susceptible to infection, increased Legionella in the environment, or some combination of factors. More illness is usually found in the summer and early fall. In 2018 in Virginia there were 236 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the state compared with 78 in 2010.

More information on Legionnaires’ disease can be found at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/legionellosis/.