Action News Jax Investigates: Confirmed case of Legionnaires' disease in Duval County

by: Deanna Bettineschi, Action News Jax Updated:

The Florida Department of Health has confirmed a suspected case of Legionnaires' disease at the Watercrest Assisted Living Facility off San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville.

On Tuesday, Action News Jax reported that the health department was testing. They told us if the test came back positive, which it did, they would investigate.

Watercrest employees agreed to talk with reporter Deanna Bettineschi about the case.

“We do not know whether or not he has contracted it in this community, but we are partnering with an independent water safety consultant as well as the Department of Health to test our water sources and treat as necessary," director of clinical operation Shannon Morelli said.

Morelli said they are taking steps to make sure everyone else there is safe.

“We are additionally flushing the entire facility water system to ensure the safety of our residents,” Morelli said.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of infectious diseases at UF Health Jacksonville, said people can get Legionnaires' disease by inhaling mist or small droplets of water that contains bacteria.

“You can have fever, muscle aches, headache, cough,” Rathore said.

In serious cases, and if left untreated, Legionnaires' disease can be deadly.

But treatment and antibiotics are available.

Watercrest management said only one tenant has tested positive, and  no others have shown symptoms of the disease.

The Duval County Health Department released the following statement and information:

"At this time, we have confirmation of one person who has tested positive for Legionellosis at this facility. One case does not meet CDC definition of an outbreak. The department is conducting an environmental assessment to identify likely sources of exposure and recommend remediation actions. Additional background information on Legionnaires' is below for reference."

Legionnaires’ Disease FAQ & Talking Points

Outbreak Information and Talking Points:


• The Florida Department of Health in Duval County is currently investigating one (1) case of Legionnaires' disease with exposure to the Watercrest Senior Living Facility in Jacksonville.

• DOH-Duval has provided recommendations for remediation of the issue and is working with the facility to protect the health of its residents and staff.

• The Department of Health’s state and local epidemiologists and Environmental Health staff will conduct an inspection and investigation of the facility.

• For those individuals that live at the Watercrest Senior Living Facility and suspect you have or had Legionnaires’ disease, please see your medical provider for medical evaluation. If your medical provider suspects you have Legionella, they should report it to DOH-Duval at (904) 253-1850 or after hours (904) 434-6035.

What is Legionnaires' disease?
Legionnaires' disease (LEE-juh-nares) is a type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by a bacteria called Legionella. The bacteria got its name in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from an outbreak of this disease.

Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease in the U.S. However, many infections are not diagnosed or reported, so this number may be higher. More illness is usually found in the summer and early fall, but it can happen any time of year.

How do people get Legionnaires' disease?
People get Legionnaires' disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that has been contaminated with the Legionella bacteria. One example might be from breathing in the steam from a whirlpool spa that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected. The bacteria are NOT spread from one person to another person.

Where do Legionella bacteria come from?
The Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. They do not seem to grow in car or window air-conditioners.

Who gets this disease?
People most at risk of getting sick from the bacteria are older people (usually 50 years of age or older), as well as people who are current or former smokers, or those who have a chronic lung disease (like emphysema).

People who have weak immune systems from diseases like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure are also more likely to get sick from Legionella bacteria. People who take drugs to suppress (weaken) the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy) are also at higher risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires' disease can have symptoms like many other forms of pneumonia, so it can be hard to diagnose at first. Signs of Legionnaires' disease can include:
• Cough
• Shortness of breath
• High fever
• Muscle aches
• Headaches

How long does it take to get sick after being exposed?
These symptoms usually begin 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

How do you treat Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires' disease requires treatment with antibiotics (drugs that kill bacteria in the body), and most cases of Legionnaires' disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Healthy people usually get better after being sick with Legionnaires' disease, but hospitalization is often required. Legionnaires' disease can be very serious and can cause death in up to 5 percent to 30 percent of cases. Pontiac fever goes away without specific treatment. Antibiotics provide no benefit for a patient with Pontiac fever.

Other Quick Facts:

• There is no risk to being near the facility or using the public drinking water supply. Legionella is not transmitted through drinking water.

• DOH-Duval cannot test you or your home for legionella. If you suspect you are sick, see your physician.

• Legionella is NOT spread from person to person.

• There is no vaccine against legionella.

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