WESTFIELD, NJ — Two of the 22 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease cases within Union County are within the seven Union County municipalities the Westfield Regional Health Department services, the director of that department said Monday.
Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection people acquire by breathing in small droplets of water containing the bacteria Legionella, and state health officials confirmed the 22 cases of the disease from people who live in or visited Union County from March 8 – May 13. Five people, all of them older adults, died from the disease, the state health department said in a statement last month.
Westfield Regional Health Department Director Megan Avallone — whose Union County service area includes Westfield, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Summit — said that while the department is investigating the two cases in its jurisdiction, there have been no additional infections since May 13.
“It’s pretty safe to say that we’re on the tail end of this,” Avallone told TAPinto Westfield. “Nobody has become sick with Legionnaire’s since the 13th.” Citing patient privacy, Avallone declined to say which municipalities the two patients within her jurisdiction live in.
Within the Westfield Regional Health Department’s seven Union County municipalities, there have been no locations identified as potential sources of the disease, as has been the case is some other parts Union County, she said.
Aerosolized water that leads to Legionella can come from air-conditioning units for large buildings known as cooling towers, cooling misters, decorative fountains and plumbing systems, state health officials said.
“Anything … we found to be suspect we took offline immediately,” Avallone said. “We weren’t even waiting for samples. We were requesting that property owners take cooling towers offline, and that’s important because these results can sometimes take weeks to come back.”
Legionella bacteria can be found in water systems of any type, but people cannot get ill with Legionnaires’ disease simply by drinking water, state health officials said. Home air conditioning units typically do not use water to cool and so are not at risk for Legionella growth, the state health department said.
Legionnaire’s is not spread person-to-person, officials said. State health officials, however, advised anyone who become sick with pneumonia-like symptoms such as fever, chills, coughs, shortness of breath and muscle aches to visit a health care provider.
Although known long before then, the bacteria Legionella got its name in 1976 when people who went to a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, convention of the American Legion suffered an outbreak of the lung infection while at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel, according to the CDC.
The process of finding the source of the disease is an extensive one, Avallone said, requiring the department to have patients recall where they went during each of the 14 days prior to experiencing symptoms of the disease.
“The incubation period is two weeks before the person became sick,” she said. “So what we’re asking them to do is to try to describe all of their comings and goings and all of the places they’ve gone in the past two weeks.”
With the state health department leading the effort, she said, health officials are comparing the 22 interviews and test samples from various locations. Last month, the Clark Health Department had identified three cases of Legionnaire’s within its township as those among the cluster in Union County.
Still, a definitive source of the cluster had yet to emerge. “It’s almost like finding a needle in a haystack,” Avallone said Monday.
On Monday, Avallone told the Westfield Board of Health that state and local health officials are working to find cooling towers through an analysis of water consumption.
“We’re actually getting information from water suppliers to see what types of facilities are using large amounts of water because it’s quite possible there are cooling towers that are not visible to the naked eye or to satellite imagery,” she said.
More Health & Wellness:
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh