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Second patient dies from Legionnaires’ disease in Ghent

18:58 16/05/2019

Two people from Evergem, just north of Ghent, have now died from Legionnaires’ disease, creating concern among the town’s residents. The legionella bacteria that causes the disease has also been detected in 15 more people over the last week, all of whom are being treated. Two of them are in intensive care.

The most recent death was of a 70-year-old man who had been checked into hospital in Ghent. Older people and the chronically ill are more susceptible to getting seriously ill or dying from the bacteria.

The legionella bacteria is found in warm water and multiplies quickly. While people cannot get infected by drinking water with the bacteria, they can by breathing evaporated water that contains the bacteria because it then reaches the lungs.

While the source of the bacteria is not known, Flanders agency for care and health have said that it could be related to cooling towers in the port of Ghent. That information is only a theory and has not been confirmed.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which is a form of pneumonia, are similar to the flu: headache and muscle pain, chills, nausea and a fever. Anyone who lives or has been in East Flanders who has the symptoms are asked to visit their doctor. Symptoms can appear up to 19 days after infection occurs.

Not everyone who breathes in the bacteria gets sick. “It’s mostly older people, smokers or people with a compromised immune system that are at risk of getting sick from legionella,” KU Leuven bacteriologist Katrien Lagrou told VRT. “Between 5 and 8% of people who get sick do not survive.  But most people respond well to antibiotics.”

There has not been an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Belgium since 1999. At that time, 93 people got sick, and five of them died. They had all visited a fair featuring Jacuzzis.

Photo: Getty Images

Written by Flanders Today