Legionnaires' case called isolated

August 06, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg man died of Legionnaires' disease at Chambersburg Hospital Sunday, the second person in a month to be treated for the illness in what hospital officials say are isolated and unrelated cases.

Ralph F. Steele, 68, of 454 Highland Ave., died of the pneumonia-like illness after a month-long stay at the hospital, according to Linda Maguyon, Steele's daughter.

Chambersburg Hospital officials would not confirm Steele died there of the disease.

A spokesperson from Thomas L. Geisel Funeral Home, which handled the arrangements for Steele, said the cause of death is listed as Legionnaires' disease on Steele's death certificate.


Another patient was treated for the illness at the hospital early last month and released, according to spokeswoman Sheran White.

"It's not unusual to see a few isolated cases this time of year," White said.

Legionnaires' bacteria breeds in warm water and is contracted by inhaling bacteria transmitted in airborne water particles from a water source such as lakes and ponds or large air-conditioning systems or cooling towers, according to state health officials.

Chambersburg Hospital's hot water system and three air conditioning cooling towers are treated and tested weekly, White said.

Tests have been negative for the Legionella bacteria for a year, White said.

Steele got sick on July 7 with aches and a high fever which progressed into other flu-like symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea, said Maguyon, who is a nurse at a Carlisle, Pa. nursing home.

He was admitted to Chambersburg Hospital on July 10 for dehydration and then took a turn for the worse a few weeks later with symptoms of pneumonia, Maguyon said.

Then he suffered kidney failure and damage to his liver and pancreas, she said.

"What I want the public to know is that this is a horrible, horrible disease," Maguyon said.

"This certainly represents no threat to the community. This is in no way close to being like the situation Chambersburg had in 1995," said Bruce Reimer, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Health.

The state averages about 120 Legionnaires' disease cases every year, the vast majority occurring as single, isolated cases not associated with any recognized outbreak, Reimer said.

"There's no indication of an outbreak at Chambersburg Hospital," he added.

In the summer of 1995, Chambersburg Hospital was the source of the state's largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease since 1976. In the 1995 outbreak, three Chambersburg area residents died and several others were infcted.

Tests showed the bacteria was present in the air and in two cooling towers on the roof of the hospital.

Maguyon said she has no idea where her father came into contact with the bacteria but that the disease "ravaged every part of my father's body except his brain."

The disease got its name after an outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976 when people attending the state convention of the American Legion at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel contracted the illness. Of the 182 who became infected, 29 died. The cause of the outbreak was traced to the hotel's air conditioning system.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people develop the illness each year in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.

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