RICHMOND — Health officials have found the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease at seven locations in Chesterfield County, including Falling Creek Middle School, Midlothian Middle School and Johnston-Willis Hospital.
Officials have been scouring sites in Chesterfield following 10 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia, but they acknowledge they may never know exactly where any of the patients contracted it.
Dr. Alex Samuel, a state official who is director of the Chesterfield Health District, said it is important to keep the discoveries of the LP1 strain of the Legionella bacteria in multiple sites in context, adding it doesn’t mean there’s any type of outbreak.
“When you test for something, you’re going to find it. Really, this bacteria is fairly common,” Samuel said. “The greater issue, of course, is whether the sites that have tested positive were the source of bacteria that caused the Legionnaires’ in the cases. That has not yet been determined.”
Officials may never know the answer to that question, Samuel said.
“We have the 10 cases, which could simply be an increase over normal [levels] that we might never be able to explain,” Samuel said. “We simply want to go through an investigation to rule out potential sources.”
The bacteria was found in cooling towers at the seven locations, Samuel said.
Chesterfield school officials have been sending emails to parents in the three schools in recent days and weeks, noting that no school or staff members at the three schools have reported becoming sick as result of the bacteria.
Malorie Burkett, a Johnston-Willis spokeswoman, said the hospital had completed a recommended treatment plan for its cooling system.
“Infection control experts agree there has been no evidence of transmission within the hospital, and there is no impact on patient care,” Burkett wrote in an email.
Mike Lyons, general manager at Richmond Ice Zone, said the business on Wednesday was in the final stretch of its efforts to eradicate the bacteria.
The disease does not spread from person-to-person contact, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, most people contract it by inhaling the germs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the rate of reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease nationwide has grown by nearly 5 ½ times since 2000. That increase might be due to increased awareness and testing, more people being susceptible to infection, increased Legionella in the environment or some combination of factors, the Virginia Department of Health said in a news release.
Last year, there were 236 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Virginia, compared with 78 cases in 2010, according to state health officials.