State employee contracts Legionnaires' disease

August 24, 2007|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,Sun reporter

An employee of the William Donald Schaefer Tower downtown was stricken with Legionnaires' disease, and several others with respiratory illnesses are being examined, but state officials were cautioning yesterday that they don't believe the building is contaminated.

"Right now, what we have is one case," Gov. Martin O'Malley told reporters yesterday at a news conference inside the building. "If there were a second case in this building, that would tell us we have to go into a much deeper level of forensic examination."

The case of Legionnaires' disease -- reported Aug. 16 -- is the 44th case this year in Maryland, where about 100 cases are typically reported annually.

The sick person has been released from the hospital.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by a type of bacterium called Legionella. Symptoms of the pneumonialike disease include fever, shortness of breath and a dry cough. It is not spread person-to-person, but through droplets of water contaminated with the bacterium. It is treated with antibiotics.

The Schaefer tower has about a dozen offices, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Public Service Commission, with about 1,000 workers employed there.

Officials with the Department of General Services did a visual inspection of the building, particularly the air-conditioning system, where the bacteria have been found in other cases.

John M. Colmers, state health and mental hygiene secretary, said it is unlikely the building made the employee sick.

"In most cases of Legionnaires' disease, we don't [ever] know what the cause is," Colmers said. "Office buildings have rarely been implicated."

Colmers said that anyone with symptoms should contact a doctor.

Legionnaires' disease got its name in 1976 when an outbreak occurred during an American Legion convention in Philadelphia at a hotel where many attendees were staying.

State office buildings are tested every year for the bacterium. The Schaefer tower on St. Paul Street coincidentally had its routine annual test last week, and the results are expected back Monday, said Bart Thomas, chief of maintenance engineering for the Department of General Services.

stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

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