Rhode Island health officials have announced a 300 percent increase in reported cases of Legionnaire’s Disease (LD) in the state. “Between 2014 and 2020, there was an average of 10 cases during the months of June and July each year, ranging from 0-11 cases in a single month,” according to the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).
So far, from June 2 to July 26 this year, there have been 30 cases of Legionnaire’s disease reported in Rhode Island. Of those, 29 have illness onset dates between June 17 and July 21, according to RIDOH.
Kent County has reported fewer than five cases.
Of the 30 people diagnosed, 28 have been hospitalized.
“No common source of exposure has been identified, although an investigation is ongoing,” according to a RIDOH press release.
Providence County has seen the highest number of cases, according to Annemarie Beardsworth, RIDOH Provider and Internal Communications.
“We can tell you that 23 of the reported cases are in people who live in Providence County,” Beardsworth said. “No reported cases in people who live in Bristol County, and fewer than five reported cases in each of the following counties: Kent County, Newport County, and Washington County.”
RIDOH’s Small Numbers Policy prevents staff from reporting case numbers fewer than five.
“Keep in mind that a significant portion of the State’s population lives in Providence County, so to see the majority of these cases there is not unexpected,” Beardsworth said.
Cranston and Johnston are located in Providence County. Warwick is part of Kent County.
“This is another example that underscores the value of RIDOH’s routine monitoring for communicable diseases,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott. “We know that Legionella bacteria grow best in complex water systems that are not well maintained. When this water becomes aerosolized in small droplets, such as in a cooling tower, shower, or decorative fountain, people can accidentally breathe in the contaminated water. This is of particular concern now as some buildings’ water systems have been offline for a prolonged period due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are just now returning to service.”
According to RIDOH, symptoms of LD start two to 10 days after breathing in the bacteria, and symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches.
LD is commonly spread from a contaminated water source through the air, and cannot spread from person to person, according to a RIDOH press release.
Patients diagnosed with LD are treated with antibiotics, and most need to be admitted to the hospital, but often make a full recovery, according to the RIDOH.
“However, approximately one in 10 people who get LD will die,” according to a RIDOH press release. “If a person with Legionnaire’s disease is diagnosed and starts taking antibiotics early on in their illness, it is less likely they will have serious complications like lung failure or death.”
“Legionella is especially a concern in buildings that primarily house people older than 65, buildings with multiple housing units and a centralized hot water system (like hotels or high-rise apartment complexes), and buildings higher than 10 stories,” according to the RIDOH.
Things Rhode Islanders can do to prevent the spread of LD include:
• If you live in a building that primarily houses people older than 65, a building with multiple housing units and a centralized hot water system (like hotels or high-rise apartment complexes), or a building higher than 10 stories, ask if there is a Legionella Water Management Program in place.
• In homes or other types of buildings, follow the manufacturer’s directions about how to clean and disinfect hot tubs, whirlpools, showerheads, and breathing equipment like CPAP machines, to help stop bacteria from growing.