Retirement community takes precautions after resident contracts Legionnaires' disease

A resident of the newest building at Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville has been diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, a potentially deadly respiratory illness.

While it's not known how the resident got the disease, Charlestown officials have temporarily stopped tenants from moving into the Caton Woods assisted living building and have tested and disinfected the building's water system, said Dan Dunne, a spokesman for Erickson Living, Charlestown's parent company.

Dunne said the case appears to be isolated and declined to provide the age, gender or condition of the resident, who moved into the $30 million building in mid-November.

The county's health department and a local hospital notified Charlestown about the case Dec. 5, and the health department ordered restrictions on water use.

The 61 residents who have moved in to the building are being given bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth until the system is declared safe.

Laboratory test results are expected by next Wednesday.

Residents also are being discouraged from showering and have been told to take baths instead, Dunne said.

They also have been told they can use tap water for flushing toilets, cooking and washing hands. For washing dishes, residents have been advised to fill their sinks slowly to minimize production of spray mist, Dunne said.

Other operations, such as dining and visits, have continued.

"Everything we're doing is precautionary," Dunne said.

The building, with space for 116 residents, was expected to be fully occupied by Christmas.

Caton Woods is the newest of the 17 residential buildings on Charlestown's 110-acre campus.

Dunne said he is unaware of any previous Legionnaires' cases at the gated community.

Monique Lyle, a spokeswoman for the county health department, said the resident remains hospitalized but could not provide more information.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia that is typically spread through water, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is treated by antibiotics, but about one in 10 people die from the infection. Symptoms include cough, muscle aches, fever, shortness of breath or headaches. Each year, about 5,000 cases are reported in the United States.

A Dec. 6 letter to Caton Woods residents by Charlestown Executive Director Clara Parker encouraged residents and employees to report any symptoms of pneumonia to their doctor.

"While we are unsure of the origin of the Legionella bacteria, we are proactively working with the Baltimore County Department of Health to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those who live and work at the community," the letter reads.

Group and individual meetings have been held with residents, and letters were sent to the general community and staff, Dunne said.

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