Legionalla Bacteria Forces CDC Office Closures

MONDAY, Aug. 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed employees that office space it rents in the Atlanta area would be closed after Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, was found in the buildings, the New York Times reported.

Fortunately, no employees have been sickened.

Legionnaires' disease is a respiratory illness that can be fatal in 10% of cases. Some experts have warned of the risk of Legionnaires when people return to buildings left vacant for months due to the coronavirus lockdown, the Times said.

The bacteria can grow in warm, stagnant water that is not disinfected. The bacteria can waft through the air and be inhaled when toilets are flushed or faucets turned on.

"Legionella is something that even though we've known about it since the 1970s or so, we're still learning about it every day," Caitlin Proctor, a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University in Indiana, told the Times.

The CDC has guidelines to help prevent Legionella from spreading as buildings reopen. But Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue, said that the guidelines are not specific enough.

"This is by design," he told the Times. "Generally, federal guidance that's issued is generic, and what building owners need is prescriptive advice. It's possible that these guidelines weren't enough."

It's not clear if the buildings where the CDC closed its offices followed its own guidelines. The CDC said in a statement that "during the recent closures at our leased space in Atlanta," the agency, working with the General Services Administration, had "directed the landlord to take protective actions."

The affected building will remain closed until the problem is fixed.

"That the CDC can't prevent Legionella contamination in their buildings is a sign that we all need to be proactive about this issue," Proctor told the Times.

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