A Baltimore Circuit Court employee has contracted Legionnaires' disease, the second courthouse worker since October to catch the respiratory illness, which is spread by contaminated air conditioning and other air-circulation systems.
The employee, who was not identified, has recovered and is expected back at work soon, Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller said. Both Legionnaires' patients worked at Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, built in 1900 and equipped with what courthouse workers called a "byzantine" ventilation system.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said yesterday that tests in the building showed very low traces of the Legionnella bacterium, making him "virtually 100 percent certain" the employees contracted the disease elsewhere.
Heller, who said yesterday she was "very concerned" about the two cases, circulated a memo to courthouse staff, noting that the air conditioning had not been turned on when the person became infected with Legionnaires', which can lead to pneumonia.
The patient in the first case has recovered, and is back at work.
Beilenson said he and Heller are worried about other air contaminants at the courthouse, including pigeon droppings (and, in some cases, pigeon carcasses), which cover window sills, vents and balconies, and can aggravate allergies and cause respiratory and other health problems.
Because the air conditioning has not been working everywhere in Courthouse East, workers open windows, which increases the threat posed by the pigeon droppings.
A recent air-quality report of both courthouses done by the city found that, except for the pigeon debris, Courthouse East, built in the 1930s, was fairly clean. The Mitchell Courthouse was found to be very dirty inside, and mold was found in some judges' chambers.
Beilenson has recommended an extensive cleaning of the building.
"But that's just a Band-Aid for right now," he said, adding that both buildings should have their ventilation systems replaced.