One Death Linked to Legionnaires' Disease at University

San Diego State University reopened two buildings that had been shuttered after a case of Legionnaires’ disease surfaced among its faculty.   May 4, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

Indoor air quality in institutional and commercial facilities has become a hot-button topic of discussion since the emergence in March 2020 of the coronavirus and the spread of COVID-19. But well before the emergence of this potentially fatal airborne threat, maintenance and engineering managers were contending with another airborne health threat – Legionnaires’ disease – that has reared its head once again. 

San Diego State University (SDSU) recently reopened two buildings that had been shuttered since Feb. 14, when a case of Legionnaires’ disease surfaced among its faculty, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. A notice from the university sent to faculty, students and staff said that testing found Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes the disease, in three samples collected along a water line in an annex adjacent to the university’s Exercise and Nutritional Sciences building. 

The annex receives its water supply from the ENS building but is otherwise isolated from the rest of the plumbing on campus. Out of what SDSU termed an “abundance of caution,” all plumbing in both buildings underwent a disinfection process, which included a 14-day waiting period for a new set of samples to show that the bacteria was no longer present. 

SDSU professor Michael J. Buono, who died March 4 of Legionella pneumonia, worked at the facility, though it was not immediately clear whether he worked in the annex or main building. It also became clear this week that the region suffered a second Legionnaires’ disease death in early March. 

A health department spokesman said that no outbreak has been detected, meaning two or more cases have not shared an exposure location. 

San Diego County’s most recent infectious disease report lists 28 local legionellosis reports through March. The condition includes Legionnaire’s disease and a less severe condition called Pontiac fever which can also be caused by legionella bacteria. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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