Minnsota's Health Department is involved in some sleuthing as it tries to pinpoint the source of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak centered in Hopkins.
Health Department spokesman Doug Schultz told BringMeTheNews Thursday the number of confirmed cases has reached nine. Schultz says the people sickened by the respiratory infection range in age from their 20s to their 90s.
He says most of them have been treated at hospitals and some remain hospitalized.
Health officials said last week that five people who live or work in Hopkins, which is just west of Minneapolis, had confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease that were contracted between Aug. 4 and Sep. 1.
Schultz says the Health Department expects to find more cases, noting the disease has a relatively long incubation period of up to 10 days.
It's spread by airborne water
The bacteria that spread Legionnaires' disease live in water but you don't get infected by drinking. It's a respiratory infection so it's spread by breathing in water spray. The Health Department has lots of background on the disease here.
When there's an outbreak, the likely sources include the cooling towers of big buildings, misters, and decorative fountains.
FOX 9 and the Star Tribune say that's why health investigators in Hopkins have been visiting the fountain at Cargill's office building as well as a SuperValu warehouse and a plastics plant called Thermotech.
The Health Department's Schultz says businesses in the area have agreed to flush their water systems with chlorine to get rid of bacteria. He says there could be more than one source of the current outbreak and it's possible we may never learn what spread the bacteria.
Legionnaires disease is a type of pneumonia so it brings on most of the same symptoms, the Health Department says.
Those include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, mental confusion, diarrhea, and vomiting.
It can be treated with antibiotics. The CDC says about 1 in 10 patients with Legionnaires' disease will die from complications of the illness.