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Independent-living apartment complex in Timonium logs cases of Legionnaires' disease

Two residents of an independent-living apartment complex on the campus of Stella Maris, a nonprofit long-term care facility in Timonium, were diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Stella Maris notified state and Baltimore County health officials and building residents and instituted water restrictions at St. Elizabeth Hall, which has a separate water system from the campus. Officials plan to continue treating the water and cooling and heating systems, and will continue to test, treat and monitor for the bacteria that cause the disease, officials said.

The disease is caused by Legionella pneumophila, which is found naturally in freshwater environments and can become a threat when it grows and spreads in building water systems.

The Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services collected water samples from the complex, and results of tests on the samples are pending, Elyn Garrett-Jones, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email.

During Legionnaire’s outbreaks, the health department recommends restricting the use of potable hot water systems by staff and residents until the water systems have been evaluated and mitigation measures have been implemented, Garrett-Jones said. Residents should avoid showering, consuming tap water, brushing teeth with tap water, flushing nasogastric tubes or preparing medication with tap water, consuming ice from ice machines connected to the facility, and using high-powered hoses. But tap water can be used for washing hands, flushing toilets and cooking, she said.

The health department supports the water restrictions St. Elizabeth Hall put in place, Garrett-Jones said.

Most healthy people do not get sick when they are exposed to the bacteria, typically when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that are contaminated. But older people, smokers and those with lung disorders, weak immune systems or other underlying medical conditions are at risk of illness.

Symptoms include fever, cough, chills and muscle aches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 187 cases last year around the state, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The most cases were reported in Baltimore City, with 34, and Baltimore County, with 33.

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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