- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

Health officials in Worcester County, Md., yesterday confirmed that three residents of an Ocean City condominium contracted Legionnaires’ disease after staying at the building in late December and early January.

The disease — caused by inhaling the mist of a contaminated water source — killed at least one person and forced the management of the Braemar Towers condominium to disinfect its domestic water system last weekend to prevent further infections.

“The process isn’t over yet,” said Jim Ritter, spokesman for the building’s managing agent, Legum & Norman Inc. “We’ll continue to monitor the situation and go forward with it.”

The disease, named for a 1976 outbreak of pneumonia it caused that killed 34 persons and left 221 others stricken at an American Legion convention in a Philadelphia hotel, produces fever, chills, cough and fatigue in patients. It infects 8,000 to 18,000 people a year in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Between 5 percent and 30 percent of infected persons die, according to the CDC.

Worcester County health official Deborah Goeller said her department began investigating reports of Legionellosis at the condo after two persons who had stayed there between Christmas and New Year’s contracted the disease. A third case was confirmed late Friday.

“Typically, our investigation is asking a lot of questions … just trying to see if there’s any kind of common factor,” Mrs. Goeller said. “The only thing we were able to find is their stay at the Braemar.”

Richard Flaherty of Silver Spring said his wife, Monica, went to their Braemar condo shortly after Christmas with their two sons and a friend. She took space heaters to warm the apartment, Mr. Flaherty said, and returned home with flulike symptoms.

After her condition worsened, Mrs. Flaherty entered the hospital on Jan. 7. Three days later, the 50-year-old mother of four died.

“It was like three days of listening to a clock tick,” Mr. Flaherty said of his wife’s hospital stay. “It was very, very hard.”

Mr. Flaherty said shortly after his wife’s death, his daughter received an e-mail from a woman whose co-worker also was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. The woman, who Mr. Flaherty said lives in Annapolis, spent time at the Ocean City condos in late December.

The Worcester County health department collected water samples from the condo, and Mrs. Goeller said the samples came back positive for the presence of Legionella bacteria on Wednesday. The condo association was ordered to treat its water system by flushing its pipes with a solution containing heavy chlorine.

Mr. Ritter said tenants also were notified of the situation, and management plans to comply with follow-up testing conducted by the health department this week.

“The condominium association and management company have done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Mrs. Goeller said.

Mr. Flaherty said he hired an independent industrial hygienist to test rooms at the condo, and a preliminary test came back positive for the bacteria. He said he is frustrated by the condo’s deference to the health department on the matter, saying no one from Braemar has contacted him.

“I feel like it’s a cover yourself as a legal matter rather than a moral issue that my wife died,” he said.“I would like somebody just to take responsibility, but I know it’s not going to happen.”

The health department has not released the names of those affected by the disease because of medical privacy laws, which Mr. Ritter said has prevented condo officials from contacting the family.

There were 83 reported cases of Legionnaires’ and three deaths from the disease in Maryland last year, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The Virginia Department of Health reported 55 cases in 2004, including one death. The District had 13 cases of the disease last year.

Legionnaires’ disease is not new to Ocean City.

Officials tested the water supply of the city’s Princess Royale hotel in early last year to determine whether seven guests who stayed there and contracted the disease were exposed to the bacteria by the hotel’s water supply. Mrs. Goeller said tests showed a low level of Legionella in the water, and officials said the hotel might not have been directly responsible for the illnesses.

In October 2003, an Odenton, Md., man died of Legionnaires’ after spending five days at his Ocean City vacation home. Officials said they could not isolate the exact source of the man’s infection, but considered the case closed after ruling out large public sectors of Anne Arundel County.

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