Legionnaire's Disease appears in area

by Judith Phillips | 7/18/02 5:00am

Does a postal worker's contraction of Legionnaire's Disease warrant an investigation of four local facilities in which he works?

According to the New Hampshire Postal Workers Union, the answer is yes. The New Hampshire Postal Service and doctors at the DHMC, however, assert that a single case of the disease does not merit such an extensive response.

The Lebanon-based worker contracted Legionnaire's late last month and was hospitalized, though no incidents of the disease have since been reported.

Legionnaire's Disease, not contagious, is a form of pneumonia associated with high fever, headaches and cough. Sometimes fatal, the disease acquired its name from a 1976 convention of legionnaires in which 34 people died from the disease.

The Legionella bacteria, often found in water sources, was present in unusually high amounts in an air conditioner at the convention.

Kirkland emphasized that the presence of the Legionella bacteria in a water supply is not uncommon.

Outbreaks of the disease occur when there are "high amounts of legionella, warm conditions, and people who are sick."

Kirkland qualified that statement by saying that the disease, usually treatable with antibiotics, is "more common in people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients, and people taking drugs."

She stated that when people hear of a legionella case, they "tend to think of an epidemic or outbreak, but most cases are in fact sporadic."

She noted that to investigate the postal facilities for traces of legionella would be frivolous, since "we know that its there. If it happens that two or three people all come down with it in a short period of time that would trigger an investigation."

Kirkland said that there is a "stigma" attached to the disease that "leads people to think something should be done that shouldn't."

She added that several other patients have gone to the DHMC with Legionella symptoms, yet "we looked to see if there was a connection, and there wasn't."

Jim Adams, District Manager for the New Hampshire Postal Service, said that "I have to depend on the experts of medicine and science," and as such, "the most prudent thing to do would be to monitor our employees," rather than the facilities themselves.

The disease, according to Adams, has an "incubation period" of two to 10 days. Yet, in the over 20 days since the worker contracted it, no co-worker has reported similar symptons.

"We have spared no expense to take care of our employees," said Adams.

"I'm just getting my information from the experts in the field, and that is why I'm staying this course."

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