New Jersey state health officials are investigating a Legionnaires’ disease cluster in the Union County area.

Legionella pneumophila bacteria/CDC

To date, 22 confirmed cases have been reported in individuals who reside in or visited Union County, New Jersey, including five fatalities.

“This is a continuing investigation. The risk to any resident of, or recent visitor to Union County is very small,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal.  “Out of an abundance of caution, the Department recommends that individuals who live in Union County who become ill with pneumonia-like/respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and headache visit their healthcare provider.”

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The Department is conducting epidemiologic and environmental investigations to identify possible sources of exposures to bacteria, conducting environmental sampling for Legionella and recommending environmental remediation strategies to prevent further transmission of Legionnaires’ disease. The ongoing investigation has identified some potential sources and remediation has begun.

Legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria can also cause a less serious illness called Pontiac fever. Legionnaires’ disease is very similar to other types of pneumonia, with symptoms that include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and confusion. Symptoms usually begin two to ten days after being exposed to the bacteria, but it can take longer so people should watch for symptoms for about two weeks after exposure.

Every year, there are between 250-350 cases of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the state.

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