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Legionnaire’s disease in Quebec City prompts action on cooling towers

An outbreak of legionnaire's disease in Quebec City has seen the death of the 13th victim last week. So far 177 cases have been recorded in the city. The legionnaires' bacteria, Legionella pneumophila, are present in building water pipes, air...


An outbreak of legionnaire’s disease in Quebec City has seen the death of the 13th victim last week. So far 177 cases have been recorded in the city. The legionnaires’ bacteria, Legionella pneumophila, are present in building water pipes, air conditioners and refrigerators, and any place with standing water, but building cooling towers in larger buildings are often most suspect because they harbour the conditions that encourage the bacteria to thrive.

Experts say that the solution is for building owners and operators to ensure that their cooling towers are properly maintained.

The actual cause of the Quebec outbreak is still not verified. Investigations are ongoing and results are not expected until October. Meanwhile public health officials have disinfected the cooling systems of 100 buildings in the city, and two local MPs are asking for the federal government to take preventive steps in federal buildings.

The legionella bacteria are only harmful when they are aerosolized into the air and breathed in. Legionnaire’s disease, first identified in 1976, is a severe pneumonia and mostly affects older people and those with weakened immune systems.

Ontario has also seen an increased occurrence of the disease this summer, with 59 confirmed cases between August 1 and September 11, compared to the average 18 or 19 cases for the month of August.