NASA employee diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease

Aerial View of Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field ©
NASA closed the cafeteria at the main campus of its Glenn Research Center in Ohio after a line cook was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. It will remain closed as a NASA crew conducts an inspection with the help of an outside expert to identify the source.

The worker went home feeling ill early Monday and was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease on Tuesday, according to officials at the research center. The cook was employed by Marigold Catering of Cleveland and worked in the Glenn center’s campus cafeteria. NASA only became aware of the employee’s illness Tuesday afternoon.

"The health and security of the Glenn workforce is the center management's number one concern," Lori Rachul, NASA’s Glenn Center spokesperson, said in an email to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We are monitoring the situation and will provide updates to the workforce as they become available."

Rachul said the cafeteria will be closed for the rest of the week as it undergoes an inspection.

“The findings of these activities will determine our next step,” she added.

It is unclear whether the cook contracted the infection at NASA. The Glenn Research Center has about 1,600 employees and an equal number of contract workers.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is investigating the possible case of Legionnaires' disease, but officials have not yet determined the source. It has reached out to local hospitals to see if they have any reported cases.

The occasionally-fatal Legionnaires' disease is caused when someone inhales legionella bacteria from infected water vapor, often tracked to cooling towers. Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, aches and a high fever. It can cause a form of pneumonia. The disease is not contagious and doesn’t strike most people exposed to the bacteria, but it can be fatal in the infirm, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that roughly 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with the disease every year in the US.

Back in August, there was a major outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in New York which made more than 120 people ill in the Bronx, killing 12 of them. Health officials identified a cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel as the source after city, state and federal officials canvassed more than 700 sites.

It marked the largest outbreak of the disease in New York City history, and prompted legislation to regulate cooling towers with regular testing for the bacteria, and penalties for violations. The legislation made New York the first city to regulate cooling towers.