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Thirty Dead In Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

May 6, 1985

STAFFORD, England (AP) _ A 60-year-old woman died Monday of Legionnaires’ disease, raising to 30 the number of confirmed and suspected deaths in Britain’s worst outbreak of the illness, health authorities said.

A spokesman for central England’s Mid-Staffordshire Health Authority said the woman died in the intensive care unit at Stafford District General Hospital.

Dr. Spence Galbraith, director of the government’s Communicable Disease Surveillance Center in London, said almost everyone treated for symptoms of the disease had visited the District General Hospital for treatment as outpatients in the two weeks before the outbreak.

Scientists from the center suspect that mist from the hospital’s water cooling towers spread the disease, but confirmation will not be available until early next week.

Standing water can harbor the bacteria and scientists were analyzing cultures grown from samples taken from the cooling towers.

Water in the towers has been heavily treated with extra chlorine to kill the bacteria if they are present.

Bacteria carried by an air conditioning system was identified as the source of the disease at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in July 1976. A total of 221 Legionnaires contracted the disease, and 34 of them died in the outbreak, the first time the disease was identified.

The hospital spokesman, who in accordance with British civil service practice declined to be named, said six more people were admitted to hospitals in Stafford on Monday, bringing to 73 the number of people hospitalized with symptoms of the disease.

Sixteen other patients have been discharged.

Laboratory tests have confirmed 31 cases of the pneumonia-like bacterial disease. Six of them are dead. The rest of the dead are classified as suspected Legionnaires’ disease victims pending autopsy.

Almost all the victims are over 50. Doctors say younger people can withstand the influenza-like disease and may not even know they have it.

Dr. John Francis, a physician at the hospital, said some of the deaths at the hospital may not have been caused by Legionnaires’ disease, but others may have died from the disease without being diagnosed, he said.

More cases may be diagnosed because the disease has a two-week incubation period. Some 3,500 people who attended the outpatients’ department between April 22 and May 3 are being checked.

Health authorities have said the hospital will continue working as normal.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday that some doctors in Stafford want the hospital closed until all test reports are complete.

All of the patients admitted so far have been from towns within a 15-mile radius of Stafford, an industrial city 135 miles northwest of London.

The largest previous outbreak of the disease in Britain was last fall in Glasgow, Scotland, in which one person died and 30 others became ill. The outbreak was traced to a brewery cooling tower.

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