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Santee man dies after getting Legionella, leaving single mom to raise kids

San Diego County is aware of 15 cases of the illness and three deaths this year
Posted at 4:50 PM, Apr 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-17 19:55:30-04

SANTEE, Calif. — Jessa Smith is trying to figure out where her husband could have gotten sick with Legionnaires' disease after the father of three died.

“Nobody knows exactly where he got it from. They’re assuming it’s from (his work) like plumbing because we didn’t get it at our house and he mostly went to work and home,” said Smith.

Smith’s husband Benjamin, 42, died on March 1st after spending weeks in the ICU. The plumber was admitted to the hospital on February 16th with a high fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

His death came just days before a beloved San Diego State professor died of Legionella pneumonia.

Benjamin’s death certificate listed legionella pneumonia, severe sepsis, and COVID-19 pneumonia as causes of death.

His wife said he was immunocompromised and had overcome COVID a few months prior but was otherwise feeling fine before he got sick with Legionella.

The CDC says people can get sick with it when they breathe in small droplets of water or accidentally swallow water containing Legionella bacteria.

San Diego County says it is aware of 15 cases of the disease so far this year and three deaths. On Monday, a state building in Mission Valley was closed out of ‘an abundance of caution’ after someone associated with the building was reported to have Legionnaires’ disease.

UC San Francisco infectious disease expert Peter Chin-Hong said it’s critical patients get treatment early.

“If you treat too late the body’s immune system has already been active and just like COVID it may be too late for drugs to take effect.”

Chin-Hong said patients will usually have signs of phenomena like fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

He said the bacteria can be found in cooling towers, water supplies, fountains, hot tubs, supermarkets, and misting machines.

Chin-Hong said the public shouldn’t panic about Legionnaires. It does not spread from person to person, and he stressed most patients can be treated if it’s caught early.

But he said the immune-compromised, people over 50 and smokers are all at an elevated risk of the disease.

Smith is trying to stay strong for her kids and spread the word about the disease while keeping her late husband’s memory alive.

“He just brought a smile to everyone’s face, he was a huge prankster, a big jokester and everybody loved him.”

A GoFundMe has been created to support Smith who is now raising her kids alone.