Ohio Outbreak Hits Retirement Community

Legionnaires disease outbreak in Ohio retirement community causes infections and deaths

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Ohio is in the midst of an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease, a serious illness caused by the bacteria Legionella.

The Ohio Department of Health reported that 39 people have become ill with Legionnaire's disease, which has centered on a retirement community. A total of six patients have died. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main method for preventing Legionnaire's disease is proper care of the water systems in which the Legionella bacteria grow. 

"Maintain water systems, including hot tubs, properly."

According to The Ohio Department of Health, 32 people have been hospitalized with the disease and DNA testing confirmed that the source of the outbreak was the Wesley Ridge Retirement Community in Reynoldsburg, Ohio not far from Columbus. 

Legionella often grows in warm water, like in hot tubs, water tanks, large plumbing systems and cooling towers, says the CDC. The bacteria is not spread from person to person, but instead from the inhalation of contaminated air droplets. 

The Ohio Department of Health says the outbreak has been linked to bacteria in an air conditioning cooling tower and several water sources.

The patients who developed Legionnaire's disease range in age from 63 to 99 years old. About 200 people live at the retirement center. All six patients who died lived at the retirement center.

Legionnaire's disease isn't contagious. This rare form of pneumonia is contracted when people breathe in tiny droplets of contaminated water.

Symptoms of Legionnaire's are similar to pneumonia, including coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches.

According to the CDC, most healthy people either don't become ill after being exposed to Legionella, or get better if they develop Legionnaire's disease.

Certain groups have a high risk for both becoming sick and developing serious complications, like lung failure or death.  Older people, those with a chronic lung disease (like emphysema), those with a weakened immune system due to diseases like diabetes or cancer, current or former smokers and people taking immune system-suppressing medications for treatment of another condition are at the greatest risk, the CDC reported. 

According to the CDC, "The key to preventing legionellosis is maintenance of the water systems in which Legionella grow, including drinking water systems, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and cooling towers."

The retirement community has taken steps to clean the water by hyper-chlorinating and superheating it. The center is also installing filters on shower heads and advising residents not to drink the water until testing is completed.

Health officials believe these steps have prevented any new infections.

Review Date: 
August 6, 2013
Last Updated:
August 8, 2013