Investigators find one source of Legionnaires’ outbreak


Analysis of samples taken from cooling towers in the port of Ghent has found genetic similarities with samples from patients infected with the disease, which has killed two people in Evergem

Legal process under way

Investigators believe they have found one source of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed two people and infected a further 30 in Evergem, the Agency for Care and Health (AZG) has confirmed.

On 9 and 10 May, samples were taken from 17 businesses in the port of Ghent for investigation; legionella pneumophila was found in five of them. “Results came in sooner than we had expected, but the lab has not yet finished its research,” said Joris Moonens of AZG (pictured above, centre). “In one sample from one cooling tower of one business, a genetic similarity was found with the legionella samples taken from five of the 32 patients. There is a strong scientific argument that they were infected from this source.” The business in question has not been named as a legal process is under way.

It is likely that the other patients were also infected from this source, but a second source cannot be ruled out yet, Moonens added. “Samples from six other patients are being investigated. No samples have been taken from the other 21 because it is a stressful and invasive procedure, and sometimes too harmful to health.”

No new cases reported

The prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation and appointed a judge. The name of the company involved will not be released until the investigation is complete. If it is found not to have taken sufficient precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria, there are likely to be legal consequences.

There is a strong scientific argument that they were infected from this source

- Joris Moonens, AZG

“It’s good that the likely source has been found,” said Evergem’s mayor, Joeri De Maertelaere. “The residents of Evergem, the victims and their families have the right to know the truth, but we cannot give the name of the source today. The investigating judge will provide this information in time in their report.”

Thirty-two people have contracted the illness, two of whom have died. The majority of patients have now been discharged from hospital, though two remain in intensive care.

All the cooling towers considered a potential source of the infection were disinfected by 15 May, to stop the spread of bacteria. Symptoms can appear up to 19 days after infection and there have been no new reports of possible cases since Saturday, 25 May. The company in question has been told to continue disinfecting its cooling towers each day.

Photo: Belga/Thierry Roge