Rare disease makes comeback in East Bay

November 19, 2008 7:50:57 PM PST
Janice Stogner-Smith was diagnosed with Legionnaires disease Nov. 7; the nurse believes she caught the rare bacterial infection while working at the Richmond Health Center, where she says water dripped constantly from the ceiling in one area of the building.

"The water just drips on your head, on your clothes and your arm and their resolution was to put a bucket there to catch the water," Stogner-Smith said. "So that went on for a long time...about six months."

Stogner-Smith says she and others complained but no one did anything until she was infected.

"I feel it was negligence," she said. "I feel like they didn't care, they just want you to work."

The county says it inspected the building and fixed the leaks on Veterans Day, the day after officials learned of Stogner-Smith's infection.

The California division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now investigating.

County health officials say their air and drinking water tests came back negative for the bacteria, but their preliminary findings reveal legionella bacteria in the water cooling system. Health officials say they responded immediately.

"We're hyper-chlorinating the cooling towers, that we are continuing to monitor our employees and we are acting as if, the legionella came from sources in the health center," Contra Costa County health director Dr. William Walker said.

Legionella bacteria are usually found where there is warm, stagnant water, such as hot water systems and air conditioning towers.

In 1991, an outbreak of the disease in the Richmond Social Security building infected 13 workers and killed two others. The building was closed for three months, cleaned and remodeled while its 1,200 employees were moved to temporary offices. Experts identified a tepid water system as the likely source of the outbreak.

Walker says they are checking into why the water leaks Stogner-Smith referred to were not fixed in a timely manner but he did say the some of the water from those buckets did not show any traces of the bacteria.

No other cases have been reported.


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