The law firm of Pritzker Hageman has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a client who was sickened in the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Hopkins, Minnesota. The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court on October 13, 2016 (file no. 27-CV-16-15044). The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) identified the source of the pathogenic bacteria on October 12, 2016, as cooling towers at Citrus Systems.
Citrus Systems’ facility is located at 415 11th Avenue South in Hopkins. Public health officials based their conclusion on the distribution of cases and where they live, work, or were in Hopkins, along with the test results from water samples taken from Citrus Systems’ cooling towers. Laboratory tests found the outbreak strain of Legionella bacteria in one of the towers. Cooling towers at six other facilities were tested, but none contained that specific strain of bacteria.
Attorney Brendan Flaherty, who, along with attorney Ryan Osterholm, filed the lawsuit, said, “Our client was severely sickened and nearly killed. He and his family want to get answers about how this could happen and prevent it from happening again.”
Twenty-three people were sickened in this particular outbreak. Of those patients, 17 were hospitalized. One person died. The first patient was diagnosed on August 4, 2016. The last date of illness onset was September 22, 2016. Officials say that more cases could be identified, since it takes time for an ill person to see a doctor and for tests to come back.
Osterholm, who appeared on KMSP-TV on October 12, 2016 as they covered this story said of the outbreak, “That’s a lot of people to get sick. Usually only a handful of people get sick in these types of outbreaks, so we want to find out why this one is so big.” Their client worked at a car dealership adjacent to Citrus Systems and spent a lot of time outdoors on the lot. The client became ill with the symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease in late August 2016, has spent weeks in the hospital, and has not yet fully recovered.
The Minnesota Department of Health, working with Hennepin County Public Health and the City of Hopkins, first confirmed that Citrus Systems had cooling towers on September 26, 2016. Water samples were collected from those towers in late September. The towers were cleaned and disinfected on September 27, 2016.
The press release from MDH stated, “overall, the geographic distribution of cases was consistent with community-wide exposure to a contaminated aerosol. Patient and family interviews did not identify a common exposure among the cases other than living, working, or spending time in the outbreak area.”
This illness is not spread person-to-person. People get sick when they breathe in water vapor that contains the pathogenic bacteria. Cooling towers can contain the Legionella bacteria because they are heated to the perfect temperature for bacterial growth, and they emit large amounts of water vapor. It usually takes two to ten days for the symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease to manifest, which means we are now beyond the incubation period for this illness.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease include a cough that may produce mucus and blood, fever, headache, chills, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. These symptoms are usually diagnosed as pneumonia, but when several people go to their doctors, Legionnaires’ Disease tests may be conducted.
Those who are most susceptible to this disease include current or former smokers, people over the age of 50, and anyone with chronic lung disease or a compromised immune system. The mortality rate for this illness ranges from 5 to 30%. The best outcomes occur when the disease is treated early on with antibiotics.
If you live or work in the Hopkins, Minnesota area and have experienced the symptoms of pneumonia or Legionnaires’ Disease, please see your doctor. This is a reportable condition and your doctor will report your illness to public health officials if you are diagnosed.