One person has died of legionnaires disease amid a possible outbreak in the Moncton area, according to New Brunswick public health.
Seven cases of the illness have been confirmed in the Moncton area over the last month and public health has yet to find the source. But according to the regional medical officer of health, Dr. Yves Léger, not all of the cases are linked.
Only three of the six initial samples have been analyzed, following some issues at the Quebec lab asked to type them, but each of those three samples is different.
“The interesting finding from those three samples indicated that for those three patients the bacteria that was present were completely different one from another, which is surprising,” Léger said.
“We anticipated that they would have the same bacteria which would have confirmed that we were dealing with one common source, and so those results really suggest that there is probably not one common source for all of the cases.”
That means public health is unsure if it’s dealing with an outbreak or an unusually high number of sporadic cases and won’t know more until the other three samples are returned later this week.
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“We’re still waiting on three other results, so there may be a few cases that have similar strains so there may be a common source for a few of the cases, but certainly the results do not indicate that we have one common source that explains all of our cases,” Léger said.
Sporadic cases of legionnaires disease are not altogether uncommon, Léger says. The province sees somewhere between two and four sporadic cases a year, usually arising from standing water.
Legionnaires is a bacterial illness with pneumonia-like symptoms that occurs naturally in water. It’s most commonly spread through industrial cooling towers and is not contagious. An outbreak in 2019 was eventually traced back to a cooling tower at Organigram in Moncton after 16 people became ill. The cannabis producer eventually apologized and the outbreak is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
Public health has yet to find a possible source and is waiting for typing results from cooling towers that were tested across the city. Fifty-five cooling towers across 33 different sites have been tested. Of those, three were found to have enough legionella to require cleaning. Samples from those towers have been sent to the lab to determine if they match any of the current cases.
Analyzing wind patterns and the travel of those infected, public health had narrowed its search to the western part of Moncton. It eventually expanded to two other areas of the city and Léger says public health has now covered most of the cooling towers in the city. The results are expected “in the next week or two.”