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Officials say Legionnaires' disease linked to Parma church cases likely came from cooling system

Posted at 2:57 PM, Oct 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-24 14:57:02-04

The cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at a Parma church that left one woman dead and 10 others sick has been linked to the building's cooling system, Cuyahoga County Board of Health Officials announced on Wednesday.

According to health officials, the cooling system at St. Columbkille church "provided a significant risk and a very likely mode of transmission and pathway for exposure for the Legionnaires' disease cases."

RELATED: 11 cases of Legionnaires' disease, including 1 fatal, linked to Parma church

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, according to health officials.

The age range for the 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 church was tested by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and given an all-clear after tests came back negative for live legionella.

RELATED: New results show no live legionella at St. Columbkille Parish in Parma

The Diocese of Cleveland released the following statement on Wednesday:

On October 11, 2018, the Board of Health released its Final Report regarding their investigation into the Legionella cases involving eleven St. Columbkille parishioners over the summer.  St. Columbkille Parish fully cooperated in this investigation.  Following the commencement of the Board of Health’s investigation, the parish has taken these important steps to ensure compliance with the Board of Health’s recommendations:

  • The church building air conditioning system was immediately shut off on or about July 19, 2018 on the recommendation of the Board of Health, and short and long term potential air conditioning solutions were evaluated. 
  • A short term solution has been implemented and the air conditioning is now safely operating with the approval of the Board of Health and the EPA.
  • The parish retained engineering consultants to conduct a thorough review of the church air conditioning system and plans are being made to remove the (non-operational) cooling tower and to install an air-cooled system in an appropriate location as a long-term solution.   
  • The parish is working to develop an ASHRAE 188-compliant Legionella water management plan for all water sources in the parish facilities.

St. Columbkille Parish is committed to the safety of its parishioners and all who may visit the parish.  As such, the parish is grateful to the Board of Health for their guidance and recommendations.  Going forward, the parish will continue to work closely with its consulting experts and provide any necessary updates to the Board of Health.