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Cluster of 19 Legionnaires' disease cases detected in Orillia

'Health unit is looking for a source of the bacteria and health care providers ... are being notified to watch and test for potential cases,' says official
2019-04-12-charles gardner
Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. Submitted photo

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is investigating a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the Orillia area. Nineteen cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in individuals who reside in or have visited the City of Orillia in recent weeks, says a media release from the health unit.

This is not the first time the lung disease has been prevalent in the community. There was an outbreak in Orillia in the fall of 2019, linked to the cooling tower at Rotary Place. There were 10 confirmed cases during that incident.

Legionnaires’ disease is a lung disease caused by Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in natural freshwater environments, health unit officials say. 

However, it can become a health concern in water systems, such as cooling towers, plumbing systems in large buildings, humidifiers, hot tubs and spas and decorative fountains when conditions allow the bacteria to multiply.

People can develop Legionnaires’ disease when they inhale aerosolized water droplets containing the bacteria. People cannot get Legionnaires’ disease by drinking water and it cannot be passed from person to person. Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill.

“We have had these cases reported to us very recently, indicating the need to investigate and to take steps to reduce the risk of further transmission,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for SMDHU.

“The health unit is looking for a source of the bacteria and health care providers in the community are being notified to watch and test for potential cases.”

The health unit is working with community partners, including the City of Orillia, to help raise awareness, gather information and monitor the impacts of the cluster.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by the bacteria. People over the age of 50, smokers, or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions, are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease can be treated with antibiotics and most cases resolve without long term effects.

Common symptoms of the disease are fever, chills, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms can also develop, such as headaches, muscle pain and digestive problems (e.g., loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea). 

The health unit recommends that if you have been feeling ill and have respiratory symptoms, you should follow up with your health care provider or call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or seek immediate medical attention.

More information on Legionnaire’s disease can be found on the health unit’s website or by calling Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.