Rick Wagner • May 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A case of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia or lung infection, has been confirmed and is being treated in the Kingsport area.

It is the second case confirmed in Northeast Tennessee this month. The first one was at a Mountain States Health Alliance facility in Johnson City. But a local health official said Friday the latest case does not present a public health threat.

“It is not an outbreak situation, emergency or a threat to the public,” Gary Mayes, director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said of the case being treated in Kingsport. “I don’t know if there is a linkage between the two cases.”

The other case was of a patient being treated at MSHA’s North Side Hospital, as reported May 16 after confirmation by MSHA and health authorities.

Mayes said the disease usually spreads in water mist or vapor and does not spread from human-to-human contact. He said such reports come into the health department from treating physicians.

“Occasionally we do have cases in the Northeast Tennessee area,” Mayes said.

He said after the treating physician confirms a case, it is reported to the local health department, which in this case was Sullivan County.

The disease generally presents with flu-like or pneumonia-like symptoms, Mayes said.

Legionnaires’ disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, is caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella.

The bacteria and the disease got their names in 1976, when people who attended a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from an outbreak spread through a heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system.

Although this type of bacteria was around before 1976, the CDC Web site said more illness from Legionnaires’ is being detected now.

“This is because we are now looking for this disease whenever a patient has pneumonia,” the site said. “Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. However, many infections are not diagnosed or reported, so this number may be higher. More illness is usually found in the summer and early fall, but it can happen any time of year.”

The CDC said signs of the disease can include a high fever, chills and a cough. Some people may also suffer from muscle aches and headaches. Chest X-rays are needed to find the pneumonia caused by the bacteria, and other tests can be done to find evidence of the bacteria in the body.

Symptoms usually begin two to 14 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

MSHA spokesmen James Watson and Ed Herbert could not be reached for comment Friday evening. However, last week Watson said it had been more than a year since MSHA last had a patient with Legionnaires’ disease before the confirmed Johnson City case.

Watson said that earlier case came through the patient’s water heater after a return from a vacation during which the unit had been turned off.

For more information visit www.cdc.gov/legionella/patient_facts.htm.

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