published Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Legionnaires' illnesses seen in Florence, Ala., nursing home

ATLANTA — An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease appears to be centered at a northwest Alabama nursing home.

However, the source of the outbreak is still under investigation, a state health official said Wednesday.

Eleven lab-confirmed cases have been seen in the Florence area since the outbreak was detected this month. Another eight pneumonia illnesses are being investigated as possibly also Legionnaires'.

No one has died, but two people were hospitalized, said Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Legionnaires' disease is a bacterial infection that can cause deadly pneumonia. It does not spread from person to person. Instead, people get it from inhaling contaminated mist or vapor. Tainted shower water, air conditioning systems or whirlpool spas are among the ways bacteria get in the air.

It's often treated with drugs used against pneumonia.

At least eight of the infected people have been living at a Florence nursing home, but it's not clear the home was where they were infected. Environmental testing results are pending, said Landers, an assistant state health officer.

Landers declined to name the nursing home while the investigation is underway.

The disease got its name from an outbreak at a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion in 1976 when more than 200 people were sickened and 34 died. Health investigators ultimately fingered a bacteria they called Legionella, which apparently had spread through the convention hotel's air conditioning system.

Legionnaires' is considered uncommon. But experts believe it's underreported and probably sickens thousands annually.

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