Legionnaires’ sickens 4 at senior home in Portland; 1 dies

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County, building owner work to relocate residents

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Four residents of a senior home in North Portland were hospitalized and one person died following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

The Multnomah County Health Department urged the more than 100 people living at the Rosemont Court to temporarily leave after concerns with the water system were noted when multiple people became ill with pneumonia on Monday.

More information on Legionnaires’ Disease

“Legionnaires disease is a bacterial infection caused by bacteria called Legionella which spreads typically from a water source,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “It spreads typically from a water source so someone has to inhale the bacteria usually through a mist or an aerosol and gets into their bodies.”

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease prompted the voluntary evacuation at the Rosemont Court senior living facility in North Portland, January 5, 2021 (KOIN)

Older people or those with weak lungs or other underlying conditions are at higher risk, she said. But Legionnaires’ disease is not spread person-to-person, “only through exposure through water mist.”

Vines said it generally acts like a flu — muscle aches, headache, fever — but it can progress to pneumonia through the lung infection.

“That is what can be quite serious, especially in older people and people with fragile underlying health.”

The Multnomah County Communicable Disease investigation team traced the 4 confirmed cases of Legionnaires to a single apartment building on Monday morning. “By afternoon we were fairly certain that the exposure was potentially building wide.”

The water was shut off to the building and there is a technical protocol for mitigation of the water supply in these cases.

Relocation from Rosemont Court, 597 N. Dekum, is voluntary, but resident Neomia Pickett said she was going to a motel.

Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, December 28, 2020 (KOIN)

“I’ve been here forever,” Pickett said. “I like all the people. I love them all. I didn’t know it was this serious.”

She said nothing like this has ever happened before at her building.

Vines, who said she’s worked for Multnomah County for about a decade, said this is the first time she’s had to deal with a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

“Just for comparisson in a typical month we get about one to two reports of confirmed legionella cases. These are just ones that pop up where we don’t identify a source or other linked cases,” Vines said. “So this is an unusual outbreak in that sense even though Legionella is well known and fairly well understood in the world of public health.”

Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics and Vines wants the residents to know they should tell a healthcare providers they’ve been “potentially exposed to Legionella since those early symptoms can really look like influenza or COVID-19.”

People in the building with questions or symptoms can call the Multnomah County Health Department at 503.988.3406.

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