Total of 6 WSU buildings test positive for Legionella

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Wayne State University campus

Detroit — Wayne State University has identified three additional buildings, for a total of six, that have tested positive for Legionella bacteria. 

The university posted a Facebook update Wednesday night, identifying the new buildings where Legionella was detected, along with the three previously disclosed in the campus alert. 

Cooling towers in Towers Residential Suites, Purdy Kresge Library and the College of Education Building have tested positive for Legionella, university officials said. 

Legionella also was identified in a private bathroom in the Faculty Administration Building, in a first-floor men's bathroom in Scott Hall next to room 1200, and in a men's bathroom next to room 118 in the Cohn Building. These bathrooms will be closed until they can be further evaluated. 

"... We immediately began testing potential sources of Legionella, the bacterium that causes the disease with the help of independent outside experts," according to the university statement issued Wednesday. "... Remediation in those three towers began immediately this evening using the prescribed disinfection process."

The university began conducting tests after an employee who works in the Faculty Administration Building was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease on May 29. The employee has been under the care of a doctor since. 

Testing will continue on campus, including potable water, and experts are expected to return during the weekend to take additional samples. 

"We have a team coming in this weekend from Atlanta to continue testing," WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood told The Detroit News on Thursday. "It's not instant, it takes about a week to get results and we'll update people when testing resumes and keep the updates coming."

Legionnaires' is spread through inhalation of water droplets that contain the bacterium, not through person-to-person contact, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The university said while water leaks from rainwater are inconvenient and unsightly, they are unlikely to be a source of the disease. 

Lockwood said students and faculty will not have to take any precautions since there is a "very low risk." 

The Detroit Health Department and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have been alerted. 

"The state is providing guidance and assistance, with Detroit Health Department taking the lead, but our lab is standing at the ready if there is anything they need," said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the MDHHS. 

Sutfin said the situation isn't unprecedented since the Legionella bacteria commonly grows in the warmer months and often in cooling towers. 

"Legionella occurs naturally in fresh water but the bacteria can occur on its own. We do not yet know what caused it but this isn't unheard of," Sutfin said. 

Makenna Holman, a WSU senior double-majoring in public health and global studies, said she was shocked Legionella was found in multiple buildings and three cooling towers. 

"I figured WSU would have a tighter hold on this," said Holman, who is minoring in German and health psychology. "It was nice that President (M. Roy) Wilson emailed us but I still had to walk into the infected buildings to work at my internship this summer. I did appreciate that they mentioned we could go to the WSU campus health center if we were feeling sick." 

Some students and employees shared reactions on social media, saying they had not received proper notification. 

"Me and my coworkers in the F/AB didn’t receive any notice of it," Elliott Zelenak posted on Twitter. "How are we supposed to move forward knowing we used these restrooms where legionella was discovered? Will Wayne State be providing doctors to check out our symptoms?"

The university is advising those concerned to visit their primary care doctor or the campus health center. 

Legionnaires' is a form of pneumonia. Symptoms typically begin two to 10 days after exposure and can include cough, fever, chills, muscle aches and, in rare cases, pneumonia. The disease can be deadly.

There are no vaccines that can prevent Legionnaires’ but it is treatable if diagnosed early.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_