The Cuyahoga County Board of Health has confirmed four more cases of Legionnaire’s Disease among those who attended services at a Parma church, bringing the current case count to 11, including one fatal case of the disease.
The board of health “cast a wide net” Monday to identify potential cases of legionella, and as a result of the widening of the search, they identified four additional confirmed cases among parishioners at the Saint Columbkille Parish in Parma.
Legionnaires disease is a form of bacterial pneumonia. It usually spreads through water droplets in the air in things like water fountains, showers and air conditioners.
"It is not transmitted from person to person. That individual gets it and that exposure point could be any range of water misting sources," Health Commissioner Terry Allan said.
Allan said this disease usually affects smokers, the elderly or people with preexisting conditions — and it can be deadly. One of the Saint Columbkille parishoners who contracted the disease died earlier this month. She was 93 years old.
The age range for the 11 cases at the church is 74 to 93 years of age, and the onset of the illness for the cases is early June to mid-July of this year.
The board of health provided the following risk factors associated with Legionnaire’s Disease, as listed by the Centers for Disease Control:
- Over 50 years old
- Former or current smoker
- Chronic lung disease, such as emphysema or COPD
- Immune system disorders due to disease or medication
- Other illness such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure
Right now, the health department is working to figure out the source for the 11 cases it has encountered.
"What we do not have is evidence in the environment that the legionella is actually in a water misting source at the church. Our data is meant to determine if indeed that's the case," Allan said.
The board of health is continuing to reach out to those individual cases to collect information. The board thanked those individuals, as well as the Saint Columbkille Parish, for their cooperation.
For now, St. Columbkille is continuing its services, but with the air conditioning shut off.
"We don't think that any data that we've collected and anything we know about the history of legionella and how its spread would warrant closing down the facility," Allan said.
Some parishioners agree.
"I think that they felt confident enough that nobody would get ill from it, and the board of heath said that turning off the air conditioning would be sufficient," parishioner Laurie Davidson said.
But Doris Pashko said she's not going back until the results are in.
"Not until they're checked, not until it's checked out really, cause who knows?" Pashko asked.