Quebec coroner suggests tougher rules after legionnaires’ disease outbreak

QUEBEC – A Quebec coroner’s report into a deadly outbreak of legionnaires’ disease that claimed 14 lives says the government must set up strict rules for owners of buildings with cooling towers.

And Catherine Rudel-Tessier is recommending the government impose fines and sanctions for those who don’t follow the rules.

She says public health authorities did not have the proper tools to combat the outbreak in the Quebec City area last year.

It originated in an office tower owned by the province’s teachers union.

Even though the outbreak was known about in mid-July last year, the owners of the building didn’t shut the towers because they were convinced they’d been cleaned and disinfected.

Rudel-Tessier says global warming is intensifying the demand for air conditioning. That, coupled with an aging population, is increasing the number of those susceptible to this kind of infection.

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Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of water contaminated with bacteria. Symptoms include coughs, fever, chills and respiratory problems.

The deadly bacteria grow in the stagnant water of cooling systems and spread in little droplets through air conditioning.

Heavy smokers and people with weak immune systems are most at risk of catching the disease, which is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another. It presents little or no risk to most people, although elderly people are more vulnerable.

Rudel-Tessier says many solutions were recommended following a similar outbreak in 1996, including an inventory of the towers.

Some of those recommendations were ignored and the inventory list is only being completed now.

She also suggested the province clarify the roles of different departments and agencies for monitoring, prevention and intervention.

The coroner heard from a dozen witnesses and experts earlier this year.

A class-action lawyer representing the widow of one of the victims says the regional health agency didn’t do enough and that he is considering legal action on behalf of the victims’ families.

Jean-Pierre Menard says he has obtained other documents and is preparing for a possible legal case.

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He was joined at a news conference by Solange Allen, whose spouse died in the outbreak.

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