Local health officials in Quebec announced Sunday that a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak has struck more than 100 people and killed eight in Quebec City in the past month.
"I am anxious to say to the population of Quebec that we take this position very seriously,” said Yves Bolduc, minister of health and social services. “We will deploy all the necessary resources to ensure the health and safety of the population.”
In response to the most severe Legionnaires' outbreak in 25 years, regional and local health agencies assembled a special team late in July to investigate. Last week a reported 89 cooling towers suspected to be the source of the bacteria were disinfected.
So far, there have been 104 cases reported, but officials say more are expected to surface in the coming weeks.
Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires' disease, spreads via mist or aerosolized water, like that found in cooling or ventilation systems. If inhaled, the bacteria can cause a pneumonia that is fatal in up to 5 to 30 percent of cases. Fatalities typically only occur in those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly. Most healthy people recover from a legionella infection with the help of antibiotics. The bacteria are not spread from person to person.
Regional director for public health, François Desbiens, assured citizens that the cases were isolated to a specific area.
The cooling towers suspected of being contaminated with the bacteria were reportedly in Quebec’s Lower Town, the oldest part of the city. As the investigation continues, the cleared towers will once again be inspected and cleaned this week, along with additional units found outside of the targeted area.
In light of the outbreak, minister of work, Lise Thériault, announced Friday that a registry of cooling towers will be added to security codes already in place, and that inadequate maintenance of the cooling towers would be met with harsh fines.
“We will not compromise on the security of the population,” said Thériault.
Health officials are urging individuals with fever or respiratory problems to consult a doctor immediately.