While coronavirus Covid-19 dominates world and national headlines, it’s the silent disease Legionnaires that has taken hold in Alexandra.

The number of people who have died of Legionnaires disease in Central Otago recently may be higher than official figures.

The disease has claimed the lives of at least three people in Alexandra in recent months.
Martin Biss (88), who lived in one of the cottages at Ranui Court Retirement Village in Alexandra, died from the disease on October 25 last year.

Alexandra woman Josie Padget (70) also died of the disease on February 19 this year.
Those deaths were confirmed by the Southern District Health Board.

However, The News understands that number could be higher.

Tony Flannery (74), not included in Southern District District Health Board statistics, died on December 28 and Legionnaires disease was cited as the cause on his death certificate, as confirmed by his son George Flannery.

Mr Flannery said while his father’s death was not yet included in Southern District Health Board statistics, Legionnaires was listed as the cause.

‘‘It’s on his death certificate.’’

Legionellosis is a respiratory infection caused by inhaling the legionella bacteria, which can live in soil, compost and potting mix, rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

It can also be found in hot water systems, water in cooling towers, evaporative condensers of large air­conditioning systems, spas and hot and cold taps.

Figures released to The News by the Southern District Health Board show there were 20 cases of Legionnaires disease last year — five in Central Otago, two in the Clutha District, nine in Dunedin, three in Invercargill and one in the Waitaki District.

According to the health board, two people died — one in Dunedin and the other in Central Otago.

Medical officer of health Dr Anura Jayasinghe said that legionellosis was the primary cause of death for one of those cases, while the other was reported as ‘‘unknown’’.

However, both people had been exposed to potting mix or compost.

In one case the product was a bulk product and the other was a bagged commercial product.

There have been four confirmed cases so far this year, which have resulted in one death — Mrs Padget’s.

Dr Jayasinghe said that early symptoms could appear two to 10 days after exposure and were similar to the flu.

‘‘The infection can cause a cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle pains and headaches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur.’’
She said early treatment could be effective.

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