BERKELEY – A staff member at Central Regional Middle School is being treated for legionnaires’ disease, and school officials said they have taken precautions to make sure the school is ready for students to come in September.
The staff member, who was not named out of privacy, was recently diagnosed with the disease. However, it is unclear when and where they contracted it as the employee had been on vacation recently, Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides said.
The bacteria needs standing water to grow, he said. There was a leak that damaged two ceiling tiles, but it was cleaned up in a few hours, not long enough for the disease.
“We are doing all tests necessary to make sure the school is safe for all employees and students,” he said. “We are taking every precaution just to be sure.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia. It can’t be contracted through human contact. People get it from inhaling a specific bacteria. It can be treated with antibiotics, but left untreated it could be fatal. It is more dangerous to older adults, smokers, and people with weakened immune systems.
Initial symptoms include headache, muscle pain, chills, and a fever more than 104 degrees. As the disease progresses, the patient may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, a cough which may produce mucus or even blood, gastrointestinal symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea), confusion or other mental changes. The Mayo Clinic web site also described a milder form of legionnaires’ called Pontiac fever. This leads to fever, chills, headache and muscle ache. It doesn’t affect the lungs, and symptoms usually clear up within two to five days.
Legionella pneumophila bacteria, which is the culprit behind most cases of legionnaires’ disease, survives in soil and water in nature but rarely causes people to be sick upon contact outdoors. Rather, it multiplies in any water systems, including home ones. Most outbreaks are associated with water systems in large buildings, including hotels, cruise ships and grocery store mists in the produce section.
The disease can be prevented by the cleaning and disinfection of water systems, pools and spas, and avoiding smoking.