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Second Legionnaires' disease death reported in Niagara County

LOCKPORT - A second death in Niagara County has been attributed to Legionnaires' disease, the state Health Department said Wednesday.

The state said in an email that it obtained the information from the Niagara County Health Department, which has so far not confirmed to the public that anyone died.

County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said he's releasing as much information as he can "without compromising the private information of the individuals."

The state's statement offered no further information about the deaths, including when and where they occurred. The statement from Albany said both victims "had underlying health conditions," but offered no specifics.

The state Health Department said in an email, "Patient confidentially prohibits DOH from releasing identifiable information about individual cases."

 

The Buffalo News reported Tuesday that Richard A. Jepson, 68, of Beverly Avenue, Lockport, died July 22 of Legionnaires' Disease, based on a statement from his granddaughter, Sarah Davey, who said the death certificate gave Legionnaires' as the cause of death. Jepson died in Buffalo General Hospital after being transferred from Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport.

Jepson lived on a street that abuts the property of Eastern Niagara Hospital, where a cooling tower, part of the hospital's air conditioning system, was found in a September test to have an unusually high level of the Legionella bacteria that causes the disease.

However, Carolyn A. Moore, spokeswoman for Eastern Niagara Hospital, said the hospital's June Legionella test was negative for the bacteria.

Stapleton said Eastern Niagara's score in September was 1,300 colony forming units per milliliter of water in the tower. After the tower was sanitized and retested, the score dropped from 1,300 to 1, he said.

The CDC said the bacteria, when emitted by a cooling tower, generally can travel about a quarter of a mile in the air, depending on weather conditions. Beverly Avenue would be well within that radius of the hospital.

Ronald Gwozdek, public health engineer for the county Health Department, said Tuesday that the bacteria can be found in the natural environment. Stapleton has said that no evidence connects the cooling tower at the Lockport hospital to the eight Legionnaires' cases found in Lockport. The county has ordered testing of other cooling towers within a two-mile radius of the hospital, but so far none have had high levels of Legionella.

Stapleton said 16 Legionnaires' cases have been reported in the county this year, with only eight of them in Lockport. "Every case we've had this year has had compromised immune systems. That's the one common denominator," he said.

Current and former smokers and those with compromised immune systems are regarded as most vulnerable to the pneumonia-like disease, which is contracted by breathing in the bacteria. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 percent of Legionnaires' cases are fatal. However, most people who encounter the bacteria don't get sick.

Since August 2015, where there was an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Bronx that killed 12 people and sickened 120, the state has required all owners of cooling towers to have them tested for Legionella every 90 days, and to post the results on a page of the state Health Department website. The Bronx outbreak was blamed on a contaminated cooling tower at a hotel.

In Syracuse last year, there were three Legionnaires' cases, one fatal, after the water system in a hospital was found to be contaminated with Legionella. In all, there were 433 reported Legionnaire's cases in the state last year, with 27 deaths. So far this year, there have been 16 deaths out of 297 cases.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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