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Probe Sought of County's Failure to Report Disease

Health: Supervisor wants to know why the public was not notified of the Legionnaires' outbreak.

July 04, 2002|LIZ F. KAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles County supervisor will ask the Department of Health Services to investigate why it did not notify the public about a recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in a downtown hospital.

The motion by Michael D. Antonovich on Tuesday's agenda also calls for the department to outline changes to its policy on publicizing outbreaks.

It doesn't make sense that "we have full public disclosure of restaurants that have closed for unsanitary conditions" but not for disease outbreaks, said Antonovich, who also initiated the county's program to post restaurant inspectors' grades.

County health officials acknowledged earlier this week that nine patients at Good Samaritan Hospital were diagnosed with Legionnaires' between January and June--but they disclosed the news only after being asked by a Times reporter investigating a tip.

Two of the nine patients died, although Good Samaritan said they did not die of Legionnaires' disease.

"When you have a Legionnaires' outbreak, reporting where that occurs is a public health responsibility. There should be full disclosure for protection of public health," Antonovich said.

Legionnaires' disease is a respiratory infection that is acquired through inhalation of water droplets. It cannot be spread from person to person.

The office of Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes Good Samaritan, has asked the health department for an accounting of how it handled the Legionnaires' outbreak, her spokesman, Miguel Santana, said.

"We would always err on the side of informing the public," Santana said.

Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are infected with Legionnaires' annually in the U.S., experiencing chills, fever and a cough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patients contract the disease by inhaling mist that contains the Legionella pneumophila bacterium. The naturally occurring bacteria can be found in warm, stagnant water systems. Tests showed the water supply at Good Samaritan contained active L. pneumophila.

Not everyone who is exposed gets infected; cigarette smokers, patients with lung conditions or those who have undergone major surgery are most susceptible.

*

Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.

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