Legionnaires' Disease case identified in Philadelphia

A woman working at the Social Security Administration at 3rd and Spring Garden Streets has been diagnosed with a case of Legionnaires’ Disease, officials at the federal agency confirmed Wednesday. Another worker in the building has tested positive for legionella bacteria, but has not developed the associated pneumonia.

Officials from the federal agency and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health emphasized that the single case is not an outbreak of Legionnaires’, but an isolated instance.

The Social Security Administration has had the water and air conditioning in the building tested and found “no evidence” of legionella, said Terri Lewis, a regional spokeswoman for the agency. The water and air condition systems are the most likely places to find the bacteria that cause the illness. About 1,500 employees work on site.

The series of tests were performed over Mother’s Day weekend – May 7 through May 9 – and “all of those have come back with no issues at all,” Lewis added. She said the agency was working with the Philadelphia health department to respond to what appears to be an isolated case.

“In an isolated case, we ask facilities to enhance surveillance through their occupational health unit,” said Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “The health department also maintains ongoing surveillance of isolated cases in the area and works to identify any links among them.”

Moran notes that the confirmed case of Legionnaires’ in Philadelphia involved someone who worked in Philadelphia but resided in New Jersey.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 538 cases, including 51 in Pennsylvania and none in New Jersey so far this year. That compared with 557 cases in all of 2009 – of which 59 were in Pennsylvania and 23 in New Jersey.

Kathleen E. Squires, division director for infectious diseases at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, said that the situation does not to be an outbreak of Legionnaires’ given the short incubation period for the disease and the large number of people working in the building.

“I think they have pretty compelling evidence that this is not an outbreak,” Squires said. And she noted that there are many good antibiotics available to treat the infection.