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Legionnaire’s Disease at Md. Plant

October 8, 1998

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Part of a plastics plant in a Baltimore suburb has been shut down after three employees contracted the pneumonia-like Legionnaires’ disease. One of the victims died.

Tests at the Poly Seal plant in Dundalk will try to determine the source of the illness, said Diane Dwyer, chief epidemiologist for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health officials are testing hot water and air conditioning systems and other areas to find the source of the legionellis bacteria, which grows in water, Ms. Dwyer said Wednesday.

``We are looking at all possible sources of water the employees could have been exposed to,″ she said. ``We haven’t ruled anything out.″

Employee Joenell Fisher, 51, died last week after several days in the hospital. The two other employees diagnosed with the disease have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, Ms. Dwyer said.

Officials at the plant notified the city health department about the problem last Friday.

On Tuesday, the company shut down the building where all three victims worked, idling about 235 employees, said Robert Weilminster, a Poly Seal vice president.

Nine cases of respiratory illness among plant workers have been reported to health officials so far, including six cases of pneumonia.

Poly Seal employee Bob Rutherford said the outbreak has been unnerving for those who work at the plant.

``It’s scary, you don’t know what’s going on,″ he said. ``You don’t know if you’re going to come in here and end up in a hospital.″

Legionnaire’s is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by a common bacteria often found in air conditioning cooling towers, hot water tanks, whirlpool spas and humidifiers.

Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain. Most at risk for the disease are heavy smokers, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

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