8 Norco City Workers Treated for Suspected Legionnaires Disease

Times Staff Writer

Eight city workers are being treated for symptoms of Legionnaires disease they apparently contracted while repairing a broken water line.

“It’s a fairly strong presumption (that it’s Legionnaires disease),” said Dr. Michael Finney of Corona, who last week examined 14 workers complaining of flu-like symptoms. Eight remain under treatment, including Johnny Reyes, 30, of Corona, who was released from Corona Community Hospital on Thursday. All the men had worked in or near the water-filled ditch located in a sparsely populated area in southwest Norco.

Reyes, a city public works employee, said that his condition worsened after visiting a doctor on Saturday. “I thought I’d feel better in about 12 hours, but I felt worse. When I went into the hospital, I had a 101 temperature,” Reyes said Thursday.

Worker Still Worried


Although glad to be home, Reyes said he was still worried. “I just hope the medicine will pull me through.”

Two other members of the city’s public maintenance crews were still off the job Thursday, according to Norco Public Works Supt. Jim Ashcraft.

Dr. David Dassey, chief of disease control for Riverside County, said the outbreak does not pose a general health threat. “It is not a communicable disease. It’s an environmentally acquired disease,” said Dassey, who added that it was unlikely that the water source at the site was contaminated.

“It (the legionelle bacterium) doesn’t live in free-flowing water,” Finney said. It is thought that the bacteria were present in the soil and stagnant water at the site, located in an industrial area.


Ashcraft said the repair project has been completed and it will not be necessary for workers to return to the site.

Both Finney and Dassey said results of blood tests--expected in two weeks--could confirm the diagnosis.

At Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, one surgery patient died earlier this month from what has been identified as Legionnaires disease. In a press conference Thursday afternoon, hospital administrator Barry Connelly said the bacteria were found in a hospital hot water tank. Connelly said that after extensive sampling, several water sources at the hospital have been “super-chlorinated” to prevent any further problems.

Some More Susceptible


According to Dr. Ben Werner of the state Department of Health Services, people whose immune systems are weakened by other illnesses are most susceptible to the disease.

“There are several risk factors.” Werner said, “The greatest risk is in the hospital setting, where immuno-suppressants are being used to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ.” People who smoke, are diabetic, and those who live near or work at construction sites are also at higher risk, Werner said.

The disease was first identified in 1976 when 29 people died after mysteriously contracting the virus at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. It was later determined that part of the hotel’s air-conditioning system was infected with the bacteria.