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A resident at The Commons on St. Anthony health care facility in Auburn has tested positive for Legionnaires' disease and trace amounts of legionella have been detected in the water system there.

According to a news release, a round of testing took place after one resident tested positive for the disease, a lung infection caused by a bacterial infection. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to the disease.

“There are no known cases of legionella disease at the facility now and no one currently has symptoms," Loretto’s Chief Operating Officer Ellen O’Connor said in a release Tuesday morning. "The (department of health) made recommendations on how to proceed and we are acting on their recommendations quickly.”

There is a water restriction in place until the facility is assured that the water tests are normal.

"Our first priority is communicating with our residents, staff and visitors to let them know what is happening and the steps we are taking, in cooperation with the Department of Health, to quickly resolve this issue," O'Connor said.

Cayuga County Public Health Director Kathleen Cuddy said that the county Health Department was informed on April 5 that a lab test had confirmed the legionella case, but that the state Department of Health is typically the agency that would investigate and help remediate this type of problem.

The state Department of Health on Tuesday said that it recommended water restrictions for the facility and an evaluation of its existing water treatment system to ensure that it is working properly.

Cuddy said that Loretto has since discovered that the bacterium was discovered to be in the facility's potable water and not in its cooling system. She said that the health care facility is on the Auburn municipal water system, but that there is no danger that the water outside the facility is contaminated.

Loretto said it released a fact sheet to residents, family and staff on May 6 and that all families received phone calls. O’Connor also noted that legionella is not contagious from person to person. O’Connor explained that the facility has a filtration system in place to minimize the likelihood of legionella.

“We test the water regularly, and this is the first time any appreciable level of legionella has been found,” according to O’Connor. “Filters have been installed on shower faucets and other remediation efforts are underway, so we expect to be able to use our water fairly soon. In the meantime we are prepared with bottled water,” O’Connor said.

Cuddy said that the facility appears to have taken all the appropriate measures to stay on top of the situation and to keep its residents safe. She said that microbial filters on showers are designed to prevent airborne bacteria from being inhaled, and the bottled water is otherwise being used.

The Commons on St. Anthony opened two years ago with the merger of the former Cayuga County Nursing Home and Mercy Health and Rehabilitation Center. It is managed by the Syracuse-based elder care nonprofit Loretto.

The 300-bed facility has a skilled nursing portion for residents and a short-term rehabilitation program designed to get patients back home.

Legionnaires' disease takes its name from the first time it was diagnosed in 1976, after 221 people got sick and 34 died after an American Legion convention at a hotel in Philadelphia. The bacterium responsible for the infection grows in water and has been discovered in air-conditioning ducts and storage tanks.

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Managing Editor Mike Dowd may be reached at (315) 282-2234 or michael.dowd@lee.net

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