The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is currently investigating an increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases in Barrie.
Four cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed recently in individuals who reside in the city; in the past six years the health unit has seen on average two cases annually in Barrie residents.
“It’s not uncommon to see cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Simcoe Muskoka, however seeing this number at an unusual time of year for the bacteria warrants further investigation,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for SMDHU. “We have notified health care providers in the community to watch and test for potential cases and we are looking for a possible source of the bacteria. Despite this, we believe the risk to residents and visitors is very low.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a lung disease caused by Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in natural freshwater environments. However, it can become a health concern in water systems, such as cooling towers, plumbing systems in large buildings and certain medical devices when conditions allow the bacteria to multiply.
People can develop Legionnaires’ disease when they inhale aerosolized water droplets containing the bacteria. People cannot get Legionnaires’ disease by drinking water and it cannot be passed from person to person. Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by the bacteria. People over the age of 50, smokers, or those with certain medical conditions, including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions, are at increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
Legionnaires' disease can cause a variety of symptoms. The most common are fever, chills, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms can also develop, such as headaches, muscle pain and digestive problems (e.g. loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea).
The health unit recommends that anyone with concerns that they may be ill to call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or seek immediate medical attention if they have difficulty breathing.
More information on Legionnaires’ disease can be found at www.smdhu.org or by calling Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.