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6 Legionnaires’ Disease Cases at City of Hope Linked to Air Conditioning

August 28, 1986

DUARTE, Calif. (AP) _ Legionnaires’ disease that has stricken at least six patients at the City of Hope hospital, three of whom died, has been tentatively linked to the air conditioning system, officials said Thursday.

Thirty five-people were evacuated from the bone marrow transplant and cancer wards of the 212-bed medical center after the outbreak of the disease was confirmed over the past two weeks, they said. Plans are under way to decontaminate the cooling system.

″We think we have a problem, but not an epidemic,″ said Dr. Ralph Jung, acting medical director for the 93-acre research hospital, which treats the terminally ill without charge. The victims of the disease were cancer patients, exceptionally vulnerable because of their low immunity.

″We don’t know if they died from Legionnaires’ disease, but they died with it,″ said Jung of the three fatalities. Additional deaths linked to the disease may be uncovered as doctors check records of recently deceased patients, he said.

The County Health Department is analyzing water specimens from all the hospital’s air conditioning units, and plans to decontaminate the system over the next week.

″We’re looking at all the usual and known sources of contamination, and the cooling system is a prime suspect now,″ said Dr. Peter Kerndt, a Los Angeles representative of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

″I think the means being taken to decontaminate the areas ... are fully adequate to terminate the outbreak at this point,″ he said, speculating that the cooling system may have become contaminated when nearby construction stirred up dust containing the bacterium.

Three cases reported during the past two weeks involved bone marrow transplant patients. Jung said one woman suffering from acute leukemia was in critical condition. Two male patients were stable.

Two cases in June and one in March involved patients on the bone marrow transplant ward or a separate cancer ward, the hospital said. Those three patients died.

In Sheboygan, Wis., a third case of Legionnaires’ disease was confirmed Thursday among 28 city residents stricken since mid-August with symptoms of the illness. The disease has been blamed for at least one death and may be the cause of five more.

A helicopter joined in the search for water cooling towers and aerosol discharging devices that will be tested to pinpoint where the microorganism causing the illness is breeding.

The Wisconsin Division of Health said testing is not expected to be completed for two to four weeks of the air, water and soil samples being taken for analysis by the State Laboratory of Hygiene.

Twenty-eight individuals, most of whom live in a 15-block area on the city’s northwest side, have been afflicted since Aug. 10 with an outbreak of aptypical pneumonia, the division said.

Five of those individuals have died, including one of the two earlier confirmed through tests to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease.

Seventeen of the 28 afflicted with the symptoms remained hospitalized Thursday.

Legionnaires’ disease is named after an outbreak in a Philadelphia hotel during an American Legion convention in 1976. Thirty-four people died and more than 200 became ill. The disease is not transmitted from person to person, but can be spread through contaminated fixtures such as water coolers or air conditioning ducts, health officials say.

A federal Centers for Disease Control survey found 750 cases of Legionnaires’ disease nationwide in 1984.

The City of Hope is a nationally known private research facility specializing in molecular and cell biology, immunology and neurosciences. The medical center offers free treatment to patients with cancer, leukemia, diabetes and heart and blood diseases.

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