Legionnaires' Disease Strikes Workers at Ford Plant in Ohio
WebMD News Archive
March 16, 2001 -- Four workers at an Ohio engine casting plant
of the Ford Motor Co. have now been diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, and
one of the patients has died.
A form of bacterial pneumonia, Legionnaires' disease got its
name from its first known outbreak in a Philadelphia hotel that was hosting a
convention of the Pennsylvania Department of the American Legion in 1976.
Approximately 221 people contracted the disease, and 34 died.
Legionnaires' disease is most often contracted by inhaling mist
from water sources such as whirlpools, baths, showers, and cooling towers that
are contaminated with legionella bacteria. In 1976, the source of the
bacterium was found to be contaminated water used to cool the air in the
hotel's air conditioning system.
Cooling towers and evaporative condensers of large air
conditioning systems have been associated with outbreaks of the disease, as
well as hot tubs aboard cruise ships that have not been carefully
But there are other ways to catch Legionnaires' disease.
Health officials believe that last August, at least two people
caught it through contaminated potting soil. It still is not known, however, if
the germ became airborne and was inhaled, or if the people became ill after
coming in direct contact with the soil. Similar cases have occurred in
Australia and Japan.
The CDC usually learns of about 1,000 cases in the U.S. each
year, but during the potting soil incident, experts noted the number of cases
could actually be 10 to 15 times greater, since most go unrecognized and
unreported. There is no record of the disease being passed from person to
Most often, the disease strikes cancer patients and others in
poor health. But in the recent Ford outbreak, the worker who died March 9,
Donald Tafoya, 61, was reported by his family to have been healthy his entire
life. A resident of suburban Westlake, Tafoya had been with Ford for 27
The CDC and the Ohio Department of Health joined local health
officials and federal job-safety experts who arrived at Ford's plant earlier in
The Cleveland Casting Plant, which employs 2,500 and makes
engine parts, was closed late Wednesday and is scheduled to stay closed at
least through the weekend.