News sources report there are now eight deaths and a total of 104 cases in the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Quebec City, making it one of the worst outbreaks Canada has experienced in its history. The outbreak began in mid-July, and officials blame cooling towers in the region that spread legionella bacteria into the air. All of this comes 15 years after a report demonstrating a need to create tougher regulations and a registry for cooling towers. This report included recommendations for the implementation of a registry of buildings with cooling towers, to help investigators narrow down sources in the case of an outbreak. The report, which was commissioned by the government, was never acted upon.
The apparent inaction regarding preventative measures to help minimize the risk of an outbreak is a common theme in Legionnaires’ disease cases. From local health districts’ recommendations to the variety of services offered by independent water management companies, the resources are in place for those responsible for public water supplies to be proactive in protecting the public. Investing money in proper maintenance of public water supplies can be the difference maker in preventing outbreaks; preparation that can save lives.
As more information becomes public regarding the circumstances of the Quebec City outbreak, we will know whether steps could have been taken to avoid the outbreak, and to what extent things could have been different. The Quebec government is planning on implementing measures to hold owners of cooling towers legally responsible for their maintenance. While this is a positive step, it seems that it may have been too late. With a more proactive approach to managing risk of Legionella, this outbreak may have been avoidable.
Jules Zacher is an attorney who focuses on Legionnaires’ disease litigation. His website, www.legionnairelawyer.com is a resource for information on Legionnaires’ disease, and related litigation.