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Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit investigates cluster of Legionnaires’ disease

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit office in Barrie. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is investigating 19 cases of Legionnaires’ disease currently in the Orillia, Ont., area.

The 19 cases involve people who either reside in or have visited Orillia in the last few weeks.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of lung infection caused by a bacteria, with people over 50, smokers, or those with certain medical conditions at an increased risk.

Health officials say that most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill.

“We have had these cases reported to us very recently, indicating the need to investigate and to take steps to reduce the risk of further transmission,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for SMDHU.

“The health unit is looking for a source of the bacteria, and health care providers in the community are being notified to watch and test for potential cases.”

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Health officials say legionnaires’ disease is a lung disease caused by Legionella bacteria, commonly found in natural freshwater environments.

It can become a health concern in water systems, such as cooling towers, plumbing systems in large buildings, humidifiers, hot tubs and spas and decorative fountains, when conditions allow the bacteria to multiply.

People can get the disease when they inhale aerosolized water droplets containing the bacteria, but officials say people cannot get it by drinking water or from person to person.

Legionnaires’ disease can be treated with antibiotics, and most cases resolve without long-term effects, health officials say.

Common symptoms of the disease are fever, chills, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms can also develop, such as headaches, muscle pain and digestive problems like loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

The health unit recommends that anyone who has been feeling ill and who has respiratory symptoms reach out to their health care provider or call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or seek immediate medical attention.

More information on Legionnaire’s disease can be found on the health unit’s website 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.

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