LOCKPORT, NY – Niagara County health officials are investigating a potential 9th case of Legionnaires disease, possibly adding to the total of a cluster recently identified in the Lockport area.
If confirmed, it would bring the total number of confirmed cases of Legionnaires in Niagara County this year to 17, according to Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton.
Stapelton told WGRZ-TV on Tuesday that his office is waiting on numerous test results to confirm whether the latest suspected case is indeed Legionnaires.
Stapleton noted that while 17 cases would reflect a 41% increase in the number of cases confirmed in 2015 and 2014 (there were 12 cases in each year respectively), it would be a number that is about average for a typical year.
Stapleton told 2 On Your Side that one possible reason for more reported cases, is because the NY State Department of Health put out a notice to local health care providers to test for Legionnaires if they have suspected cases of it, in the wake of the recent outbreak, adding that if there is more testing going on, the likelihood is that you will find more of the disease present.
Erie County health Commissioner Dr. Gale R. Burstein agreed with that assessment.
“We often see this with other reportable communicable diseases, so yes, if people are testing more for Legionella we will find more cases just because there is more testing," she said.
As well, Legionellosis, often causes symptoms similar to those caused by other organisms, including influenza virus and other types of bacterial pneumonia. In addition, the specific laboratory tests needed to confirm the diagnosis are not always requested. The diagnosis depends on very specialized laboratory tests involving culture of the patient's sputum or detecting the organism in urine. Routine laboratory tests will not identify the Legionella bacteria.
“We believe there are probably more people in the community that develop the pneumonia from legionella because a test is never done," said Burstein.
Stapleton does not consider this a health care emergency. For comparison purposes, he said just one case of measles would be considered a health emergency, because it is highly contagious, and there may be some who are not vaccinated against the disease. He adds if all of these cases, including the 8 and now potentially 9 in Lockport were all from one area or source, they would be much more concerned, but that is not the case.
For more information on Legionnaires Disease follow this link to a fact sheet from the New York State Department of Health.