JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Mayo Clinic has confirmed that it reported a case of Legionnaires' disease at its Jacksonville campus to the Florida Department of Health.
"We are following CDC recommendations pending the outcome of further water testing. Mitigation efforts are underway to reduce the potential for exposure. All measures are precautionary at this time as we have not identified an immediate risk to patients, staff or visitors," the Mayo Clinic said in a statement sent Wednesday to News4Jax.
News4Jax first started looking into this story after receiving an email from a viewer, who wrote: "When I was admitted to Mayo hospital, the clerk from admissions reviewed a two-page dialog with me regarding the possibility of Legionnaires' infection at the hospital."
The Duval County Health Department said there have been 16 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease this year, which is double the eight cases that News4Jax reported in June. The numbers appear to have decreased somewhat -- they were higher for Duval County in 2018.
Legionella pneumophila, known as Legionnaires’ disease, is very similar to other types of pneumonia, with symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches.
Legionella is a type of bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made building water systems, such as showerheads and sink faucets, cooling towers as part of commercial building air cooling systems, hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use and large plumbing systems.
The Mayo Clinic is now conducting water testing since Legionnaires' disease can be transmitted through things such as fountains, hot tubs and air conditioning units. The hospital declined an on-camera interview Wednesday, so News4Jax spoke with Dr. Harold Laski at the Southside Medical Center about whether the recent case is a concern.
"It is somewhat common. We’ve seen it since 1976 when it was first discovered. It really came from air conditioning ducts," Laski said.
According to the CDC, the disease takes its name from the outbreak in 1976 that occurred at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Within a week, more than 200 people had been hospitalized and 34 had died.
Laski said Legionnaires’ disease is treatable in most cases, but for anyone who has a compromised immune system, it can be deadly. He said Legionnaires' disease does not spread from person to person, but rather that bacteria spreads through mist.
"If people have autoimmune problems, if they’re smokers, lung problems like COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), it can be dangerous because it is a pneumonia," Laski said.
There are no vaccines for Legionnaires’ disease. The key to preventing it is for building owners and managers to maintain building water systems in order to reduce the risk of Legionella bacteria growth.