More cases of legionnaires' disease to surface: Que. health minister
Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 29, 2012 7:26AM EDT
Quebec’s Health Minister Yves Bolduc says despite the province’s efforts to contain a deadly outbreak of legionnaires’ disease, more people will likely be infected before it is contained.
The deadly outbreak has already claimed the lives of eight people and sickened at least 126 people. Bolduc says the province expects a few more cases to surface.
“Public health direction is doing the right thing with the town of Quebec but it takes time,” he said. “And you know the incubation period is nine to 10 days -- it means we’re going to have other cases in the next few days.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Jean Charest says his government will look into the month-long outbreak in Quebec City to determine what could have been done differently.
"We will assume the share of responsibility that is ours," he said during an election campaign stop on Tuesday.
"We will look at everything and we will do so rigorously because we're talking about people's health."
But he says partisan politics need to stay out of the discussion.
That stance was in contrast to that taken by Bolduc on Friday, when he said that the Parti Quebecois failed when it was in power to implement key recommendations from a 1997 report on legionnaires’ disease outbreaks.
That report recommended more stringent regulations for building ventilation maintenance. The government at the time promised to take steps to prevent outbreaks, including holding building owners legally responsible for maintaining their cooling systems.
Authorities continue to say they believe they have the outbreak under control, even though three more residents were diagnosed on Monday,
The new cases bring the infection count to 107 since mid-July, making it one of the largest outbreaks of the disease in Canadian history. Eight people have died, most of them seniors in their 70s or 80s.
Clement Huppe was recently released from hospital after he contracted the disease. While in hospital, Huppe had a high fever and feared for his life.
Huppe told CTV Montreal that he has friends who also fell ill with the disease.
“I’m shocked because in the meantime I lost one of my friends, an old classmate, and another one of my friends is in a coma,” he said.
François Desbiens, director of public health for Quebec City, said Monday that authorities believe they have the outbreak under control but are reluctant to declare that it has peaked.
It can take up to 10 days before those exposed to legionnaires’ bacteria are diagnosed.
"When I look at the statistics of people who are under observation in emergency rooms or admitted for hospitalization, the figures show a relative stability between Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as Monday morning,” Desbiens told reporters Monday.
This outbreak is thought to stem from rooftop air conditioning cooling towers. They’ve narrowed in on the cooling systems of two building towers in particular, but tests to confirm the source could take weeks to complete.
Though 30 towers targeted last week for a "shock treatment" of bromine to kill off bacteria in their ventilation systems, but authorities have since expanded the possible “contamination zone” to 100 cooling towers.
Inspectors plan to return this week to the 30 buildings they visited last week. Chantale Giguere, assistant director general for public security in Quebec City, says authorities want to make sure building owners are following instructions on disinfecting the systems.
"Beginning (Tuesday), we're going to revisit 30 towers that we checked last week," Chantale Giguere, assistant director general for public security in Quebec City, said Monday.
"We want to do turbidity tests on the water -- to see how transparent it is -- as well as chlorine tests to verify that building owners have complied with what we asked them to do.
"And if we see by Thursday that these tests are not positive, they could be faced with an order to have their cooling towers shut down."
The deadly bacteria that cause legionnaires can grow in cooling systems, spreading in tiny droplets through air conditioning vents and out of the rooftop towers. While not everyone who breathes in the infected droplets will become sick, some who do can develop severe pneumonia.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Maya Johnson