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Legionella found in samples taken from state building in Mission Valley

3 people have died after getting the disease this year in San Diego County
Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-20 17:21:24-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif,. Legionella, a bacteria that leads to Legionnaires’ Disease that kills an estimated one in 10 people, was found in a state building in February, ABC 10 News has confirmed.

But state officials only closed the Mission Valley building to the public and employees after someone inside reported testing positive for the illness this month.

The department of General Services said legionella was found in samples taken from 7575 Metropolitan Drive during routine testing in February.

Monica Hassan, deputy director, of the Department of General Services said the finding “is typical when testing is performed in large buildings.”

She said after receiving a report of a legionella case from someone associated with the building, the state decided to close it while testing and mitigation continues.

“We are working closely with state and local partners and will not reopen until we are confident, working in partnership with CalOSHA and our Legionella experts, that the building is safe to occupy.”

Dr. Brad Perkins is chief medical officer at Karius, a company that uses advanced molecular diagnostics for infectious diseases.

He led the CDC’s anthrax attacks response following 9/11 and weighed in on the Mission Valley finding. “It’s not common but it does occur,” the San Diego based doctor said.

He said it’s hard to diagnose Legionnaires’ Disease because of characteristics of the bacteria, which typically lives in water in cooling towers, water fountains, hot tubs, misting machines and showers.

Perkins said while a urine test or lung sample in the hospital can catch it, these tests only work for the most common cause of Legionella so many patients with other variations go undetected.

Karius has an non-invasive blood test that can catch Legionnaires.

He said with three deaths reported in San Diego County and 15 cases so far this year, there are likely many more patients who’ve gotten ill from Legionella.

“If you see multiple deaths and you know that only one out of ten exposed should die that indicates that there may be a larger number of cases that you haven’t identified yet.”

UC San Diego Health infectious diseases expert Dr. Francesca Torriani said she suspects the warming climate is leading to more cases due to increased humidity.

She offered advice to people at home who may be worried about getting the illness.

"If you go away on vacation and you're not using your house and then you come home, that would be when your highest risk because then you have basically … a potentially showering of organisms and so I would say if you come back from an extended absence then maybe you should be flushing your water systems so that you get a new water and you get rid of the stagnant water."