‘Very surreal experience’: Legionnaires’ disease survivor calls for registry, maintenance laws

As New Brunswick Public Health officials continue to investigate a legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Moncton, a university professor and a survivor of the illness are echoing calls for a provincial-led registry of cooling towers.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by bacteria called legionella that can be found in natural bodies of water, such as ponds, lakes and streams, as well as in constructed water systems, such as air conditioners, cooling towers, whirlpools, spas and decorative fountains.

“When the conditions are right, bacteria can grow, and then if there are mists that are created that allow that bacteria to go into the air and spread, people can breathe it in,” Dr. Yves Léger, the regional medical officer of health, told Global News on Sunday.

Riverview resident Ken Martin says he contracted legionellosis back in 2018, a year before an outbreak occurred, and was placed on life support after being admitted to the Moncton city hospital.

“It was a very surreal experience and it was a very long recovery,” he says.

“To this day, I have no idea where I caught legionella.”

The province declared the outbreak on Friday, after six cases were reported in two weeks.

“My sympathy goes to those people and their loved ones,” Martin says.

There were calls for a cooling tower registry after the 2019 outbreak, both suggested by Dr. Léger and Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold.

A City of Moncton spokesperson says they now take that information on new builds, but says a registry should be a provincial responsibility.

“Our position remains that, in order to have a consistent, coordinated approach, the province should have a registry of these cooling towers to be able to track when they’re cleaned, where they are in the event there’s an outbreak elsewhere,” says Austin Henderson, the city’s manager of strategic communications.

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