Officials Investigate Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak in San Antonio

June 9, 2006

The recent diagnosis of 10 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in San Antonio, Texas, has prompted health officials to investigate whether the cases share a common source.

The 10 cases were diagnosed within the past two months at two hospitals on San Antonio’s north side, prompting the concern, officials said.

Two of the 10 patients have died, although one death involved a patient suffering from advanced colon and lung cancer. The youngest of the patients was 50 years old, and all had some medical condition that weakened their immune system.

“We’re looking to see if there’s some sort of commonality,” said Roger Sanchez, an epidemiologist with the Metropolitan Health District.

Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial pneumonia that is fatal in about a third of cases. Healthy people generally are not at risk. The disease is spread by inhaling contaminated droplets from sources such as shower heads, hot tubs or patio mist sprayers. The bacteria is also found in nature.

Thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease each year, although the bacteria can also cause a milder illness with cold-like symptoms called Pontiac fever. Both illnesses are treated with antibiotics.

The health district is leading the investigation with help from the state and a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which arrived this week.

Dr. Sandra Guerra-Cantu, regional medical director with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said it’s possible that the 10 cases are not related.

“At this point we don’t know for sure that there is a common exposure,” she said. “Even if we find a common exposure, usually it’s easily corrected. I wouldn’t want the public to panic about this.”

The investigators will be working with patients to determine the possible sources of exposure.

“Anywhere the investigation will lead us that more than one person lists as a possible exposure, we’ll investigate further,” Guerra-Cantu said.

The disease was named for an outbreak at the 1976 American Legion conference in Philadelphia. A San Antonio outbreak in 1996 included 16 people but the source was never determined, Sanchez said.

Information from: San Antonio Express-News,

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