Hit Again by Legionnaire’s Disease

New case at Rosemont senior apartments

The Multnomah County Health Department has confirmed new cases of Legionnaires’ Disease at Rosemont Court, despite efforts to fix the building's water system.

A historic property in north Portland retrofitted into senior and low-income apartments some years ago, Rosemont residents were evacuated from their homes under a public health advisory last January after at least 10 cases of the bacterial disease were reported to have caused hospitalizations and at least one death.

But residents were allowed to return under new precautions and many of them cited the affordability of the complex with monthly rents much lower than can be found elsewhere, as a reason for staying.

Legionnaires’ disease typically spreads from a water source and officials believe it somehow got into the building’s water supply.  The building, a former convent and religious school at 597 N. Dekum St., is owned by Northwest Housing Alternatives.

The disease is not known to spread from person-to-person. And most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. But for people at increased risk, breathing in very small droplets of water with the bacteria can lead to severe pneumonia, health officials said.

People at increased risk for infection include the elderly, smokers, those with chronic diseases such as COPD or diabetes, and the immunosuppressed. For those who get symptoms, the first to appear are usually flu-like (fever, tiredness, muscle aches, and headache). Signs of a serious Legionella lung infection (pneumonia) include cough and chest pain. Many people sick with Legionella also have diarrhea.

In January, Multnomah County created a plan with building managers to treat the Rosemont water system with chlorine, including shutting off the water for consumption and providing bottled water. A disinfection system and filters were also added on faucets in the apartments.