Legionella bacteria found in five port-area companies

Summary

Business that use cooling towers in the port of Ghent have been tested for the legionella bacteria, which has led to multiple infections and two deaths this month

Source not yet determined

Researchers are carrying out specialised tests to determine the source of the Legionella pneumophila bacteria that has put several people in hospital and led to two deaths in Evergem, just north of Ghent. The bacteria is found in water vapor that is then breathed into the lungs.

The legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease, an acute form of pneumonia. An outbreak in Evergem started a couple of weeks ago and has seen 24 people become sick and two die from the disease. It is treated with antibiotics, and none of the patients currently in hospital are in critical condition.

Flanders’ agency for care and health used data such as where the patients live and work and wind direction to narrow down the search for the source of the bacteria to 17 companies in the port zone. They found legionella pneumophila in five of them.

All 17, however, have been instructed to add disinfectant to their cooling installations. They will do this weekly until further notice. If any of the five where samples were found are the source, that should stop the spread of the bacteria.

“We are looking into if any of these five companies is the actual source of the contamination,” said Joris Moonens of the Care and Health Agency. “Two companies with high concentrations of the bacteria are the priority. But that doesn’t mean that they are the source. To find that out, further analysis is needed.”

Photo courtesy North Sea Port