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17th case of Legionnaires' disease reported in Niagara County

LOCKPORT – A new case of Legionnaires' disease was reported to the Niagara County Health Department earlier this week, Director of Nursing Kathleen A. Cavagnaro said Friday.

The report is the 17th diagnosed case of the pneumonia-like disease in the county this year, and the patient is a City of Lockport resident, Cavagnaro said. That brings the total in Lockport to nine cases.

[Related: 3 of Niagara County's Legionnaires' cases are in same family]

Two people have died from Legionnaires' disease in the county this year. Richard A. Jepson, 68, of Lockport, died July 22, which was reported to The Buffalo News by his family, although the Health Department has not confirmed that.

The State Health Department disclosed earlier this week there was a second fatality, but no information was released on that death. An emailed statement from Albany Friday said the death toll remains at 2, so the new case does not appear to be fatal, although Cavagnaro wouldn't say one way or the other.

The new case comes weeks after Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport sanitized a cooling tower  in its air conditioning system, after high levels of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, were found in a state-mandated September test. Cooling towers must be tested for Legionella every 90 days.

Richard Jepson (Courtesy of his family)

Richard Jepson (Courtesy of his family)

However, Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton told the county Board of Health Thursday that efforts to grow Legionella from DNA samples taken from the cooling tower and two Lockport patients have failed at the State Health Department laboratory in Albany. The attempt was made to try to tie the Lockport cases to a source.

"There's a possibility we won't find the exact cause. That's true with a lot of disease," Stapleton said. "But we're going to work our hardest with our epidemiologists."

Stapleton told the board that the year's first case of Legionnaires' disease in Niagara County was reported in January.

Cavagnaro said, "We get reports every year." Niagara County had 12 cases in 2014 and again in 2015.

The bacteria are found in bodies of water and in moist places, and the disease is generally spread only by breathing in the bacteria in "aerosolized" water, which means propelled mist or water vapor. "You can't get it from person-to-person contact," Cavagnaro said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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