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Steps taken to remove Legionella bacteria from water system at The Inn at Lathrop

To date, no Lathrop residents have reported symptoms of the disease, a type of penumonia marked by high fever and cough, according to memos distributed to residents and employees at the 59-apartment retirement community on Basset Brook Drive.

However, a Lathrop resident was diagnosed with the disease while in the hospital, one of the memos said. Legionella bacteria is among the most common causes of hospital-acquired pneumonia, according to public health sources.

When asked where the resident was hospitalized and whether their case was the reason the water system at The Inn was sanitized, Debra Parry, director of finance and interim executive director for the retirement community, declined to elaborate, citing health privacy rules.

She said Latrhop residents should not be concerned.

“This bacteria is common to lots of water systems,” Parry said. “We had reason to believe our water system might contain it and we took some proactive steps. In our opinion, we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Meanwhile, Cooley Dickinson Hospital has reported one case of Legionnaire’s disease to the state since January, according to Linda Riley, a registered nurse and manager of infection prevention at the hospital. The disease is a reportable condition in Massachusetts, which means a positive diagnosis must be reported to state health authorities, who then notify local public health departments.

To date, neither the Easthampton nor the Northampton health departments has received reports of any cases of Legionnaire’s.

Named for a fatal 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, Legionnaire’s disease is not contagious and cannot be contracted by drinking water, according to public health sources. Instead, people become ill by breathing water vapor that has been contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

Despite its history, the disease most often appears in single, isolated cases rather than in large outbreaks. Experts say most people who contract Legionnaire’s disease are susceptible because of other health conditions. People can be exposed to low levels of Legionella without becoming sick.

Parry said Lathrop contacted the Easthampton Health Department for technical information and hired OccuHealth Inc. an industrial hygiene company in Mansfield, to eradicate Legionella from the water system at The Inn.

The process, conducted on Feb. 13, involved raising the water temperature in the system to a level that would kill the bacteria, according to a memo distributed to residents. A “cleanup phase” involved replacing new faucet aerators and shower heads in all of the apartments.

Parry said after a required two weeks, water samples now in the lab will be tested to ensure that the bacteria has been completely eliminated from The Inn’s water system. There was no problem with the water system at Lathrop’s townhouses in Easthampton or its community in Northampton, she said.

Jackie Duda, Easthampton’s health agent, emphasized that Legionella bacteria is commonplace.

“Finding it in a water system is not too surprising,” she said. “It sounds to me like the people at Lathrop are going about this with the right strategy.”

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