Alabama up to 15 cases in Legionnaires’ outbreak

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama health officials have confirmed 15 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Florence, and positive cultures for Legionella bacteria have been found in three cooling towers in the northwest Alabama city.

The 15 confirmed cases include one death, the assistant state health officer, Dr. Karen Landers, said Monday. The death was reported last week. The 15 is up from 13 confirmed cases Friday.

Landers said test results are pending on 10 others. All the cases have been associated with residents and visitors at Glenwood Nursing Home, which remains open and is cooperating with health officials.

Landers said positive cultures for the bacteria came from two cooling towers at Regency Square Mall and one cooling tower at Southwire. The towers have been turned off and will be cleaned. She said testing will determine if there is a link between the cooling towers and the nursing home outbreak.

She said the towers were checked because cooling towers have been associated with the disease in some other locations, and cooling towers can dispense water droplets some distance. She said the Southwire plant is 1.7 miles from the nursing home, and the mall is closer.

Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial infection that can cause deadly pneumonia. It does not spread from person to person. Instead, people get it from inhaling contaminated mist or vapor. Tainted shower water, air conditioning systems or whirlpool spas are among the ways bacteria get in the air.

The disease, officially known as Legionella pneumonia, got its name from an outbreak at a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion in 1976 when more than 200 people were sickened and 34 died. Health investigators ultimately identified the culprit as a bacterium they called Legionella, which apparently had spread through the convention hotel’s air conditioning system.

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