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Legionella found again in state building, 1 illness reported

The building was temporarily closed last year for remediation
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Posted at 6:52 PM, Feb 09, 2024

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — An elderly person who visited a government building that houses the California Department of Public Health has reported getting Legionnaire’s Disease.

The senior visited the state building in December last year, the Department of General Services told Team 10.

The building, located at 7575 Metropolitan Drive, tested positive for legionella several times last year. The senior’s illness was reported to the state last month.

“As a nurse I’m very concerned about everyone’s welfare,” said Chana Luria, a public health nurse, who inspects health care facilities and is now calling on the state to close the building.

Luria told Team 10 she wants the building closed until rigorous testing shows there’s no legionella inside.

Legionella is a bacteria that often lives in water systems, faucets and cooling towers. It can cause Legionnaire’s Disease, which kills about one in ten people, according to the CDC.

“Everyone can be exposed to legionella but the vast majority of people who do poorly with legionella are older,” said Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at UCSF.

Chin-Hong said it’s rare to have recurrent legionella outbreaks but not totally unheard of.

“They've been cases documented in the literature where in a hotel, for example, there was a span of 10 years or so with outbreaks in the same hotel.”

Tests taken last February inside the state building showed legionella was present.

In April, the building temporarily closed for remediation and testing. The next month after the building had re-opened testing showed minor levels of the bacteria remained.

A November 2023 memo obtained by Team 10 shows the bacteria was still in the building that month. At the time, management said it had been found inside a showerhead in the women’s locker room.

Luria said she is concerned about immune compromised people visiting the building for appointments and is limiting her own time in the office.

“I will not be near a water source. I will wear my mask. I will go in and out as quickly as possible.”

The California Department of Public Health told Team 10 while the source of the elderly person’s infection is not known for certain, it is recommending additional testing of the Mission Valley building.

The department said it is now asking for assistance from the CDC to ensure the safety of the building’s occupants. It is not recommending the closure Luria is calling for — something she said in her opinion is "not in the public's best interest."

"The department is following all public health recommendations and taking all recommended and proactive steps to remediate legionella found in some areas of the building," said Fallon Okwuosa, assistant deputy director of the Department of General Services.

The County told Team 10 there were 94 confirmed cases of Legionnaire’s Disease last year along with 10 deaths and 32 ICU admissions.