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Four Deaths in Two States Blamed on Legionnaires’ Disease

August 28, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Health officials searched today for the sources of Legionnaires’ disease bacteria responsible for at least four deaths in a Sheboygan, Wis., neighborhood and a California hospital.

Two wards at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., were evacuated after six cases of the disease were reported in the last six months, three of them fatal.

″We’ve got to take precautionary steps before this gets out of hand,″ said Dr. Ralph Jung, acting medical director of the hospital.

Three cases of the disease were reported during the last two weeks, all involving bone marrow transplant patients receiving treatment on a special ward, Jung said.

One woman suffering from acute leukemia is in critical condition, while two male patients are stable, Jung said Wednesday.

Two cases reported in June and one in March involved patients on the bone marrow transplant ward or a separate cancer ward, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported today. All three of the earlier patients died.

Thirty-five people were evacuated to other facilities on the hospital’s 93- acre grounds, Jung said. The two wards are being cleaned and inspected, but so far no cause of the outbreak has been found, the director said.

In Sheboygan, the disease has been blamed for at least one death and may be the cause of five more, officials said.

A National Guard helicopter was authorized Wednesday to help health officials survey a 15-square-block area on the northwest side where most of the victims live.

Officials said they were hunting for pools of stagnant water, water tanks and other moist areas in which the micro-organism could be breeding.

Of 28 people hospitalized since Aug. 10 with suspected Legionnaires’ disease, five have died. Seventeen remained hospitalized Wednesday, none in critical condition.

The 28 had symptoms similar to Legionnaires’ disease, but as of Wednesday, laboratory tests had definitely identified the bacteria only in the case of one death and one other patient.

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.

Twenty-three of the Sheboygan victims lived in the area under study by a team headed by Dr. Jeffrey Davis, a state epidemiologist, and the other five had links to the neighborhood, he said.

The investigation includes inspection of possible sources of the bacteria in homes, such as air conditioners, dehumidifiers and showerheads, Davis said. But he said homes were not necessarily suspected because so many people were affected.

″We have a team going to various industries and locations where they have water evaporative towers and to places where people may have congregated,″ city health Director Sol Belinky said. ″They’re looking for water samples from coolers and possibly air samples, too.″

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