Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported in Brooke County

WHEELING — Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease — an infection caused by Legionella bacteria — have been identified in Brooke County.

“At this time, there appears to be no related link to the cases,” administrator Michael Bolen said Tuesday.

A few months ago, six other cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported to the Hancock County Health Department. However, administrator Jackie Huff said there are “no new cases in Hancock County” as of Wednesday.

There are no current cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Ohio and Marshall counties, said Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. Gamble is providing administrative assistance to the Marshall County Health Department while it seeks a new administrator.

Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from one person to another, the health officials said.

To contract the disease, “a person must inhale the water vapor from an infected source,” Bolen added.

Noting that “one case may not be an outbreak,” Gamble said, “Legionnaire or Legionellosis is reportable to the county health department within one week by lab or physician office.”

At the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, he said, “We have had a lot of inquiries into Legionnaires’ disease due to the current cases in both Hancock and Brooke (counties) as well as the increase in cases in 2017 through West Virginia.”

Approximately 20 to 30 cases a year are reported typically in West Virginia, Gamble said.

“Although the disease can occur any time, more cases are seen in the summer and early fall,” he added.

Gamble explained how people can be exposed to the bacteria.

“People can be exposed to Legionella through breathing in mist or water vapor that has been contaminated with the bacteria. Exposure is probably fairly common, but serious disease caused by exposure is rare. Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac Fever) has been associated with breathing water vapor from cooling towers, humidifiers, whirlpool spas, respiratory therapy devices, decorative fountains, showers and hot tubs,” he said.

Exposure from public water sources is rare because of the high rate of treated water.

“However, untreated pools, fountains, hot tubs and other units can be more of a risk,” he said.

Describing symptoms of the illness, Gamble said, “People with Legionnaires’ disease often have high fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, diarrhea, abdominal pain and pneumonia.”

Symptoms can begin two to 14 days — but usually five to six days — after an exposure. “Legionnaires’ disease can be very serious and must be treated with antibiotics,” he said.

At the health department, Gamble said, “Since exposure is usually associated with an environmental issue, when we get a case or an inquiry, we do an environmental investigation as well as a clinical investigation to see when and where an individual was exposed.

“With individual cases, it is difficult to determine the source of infection because Legionella bacteria are so common in the environment and because people come in contact with water vapor in so many places. Investigations are usually done if a legionellosis outbreak is suspected.”

For such cases, he said, “Interviews are done with the patient or family members to find out where the patient has been in the two weeks before getting sick. Emphasis is placed on areas where water vapor is commonly found. Patients in an outbreak are compared to one another to see if they have been in the same place during the same time period.”

In other areas, Gamble said, “Outbreaks have been linked to hospitals, hotels and cruise ships, with the most likely sources including cooling towers and whirlpool spas.”