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Ford worker's death blamed on Legionnaires'; plant closes temporarily

Cuyahoga County health officials and members of the CDC were at the plant in Brook Park Thursday, checking for the possible source of the bacteria
Cuyahoga County health officials and members of the CDC were at the plant in Brook Park Thursday, checking for the possible source of the bacteria  

CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- The Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Board of Health confirmed Thursday that a Ford Motor Co. worker who died last week of unspecified pneumonia had Legionnaires' disease.

Three other workers at the same plant have also been diagnosed with the disease, and Ford has temporarily closed the casting facility.

It will remain closed through at least Sunday, said Ford spokesman Ron Iori.

"The county and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are taking samples at several locations in the facility," Iori said.

Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Timothy Horgan said Ford closed the plant in Brook Park on Wednesday night for tests and disinfection after three cases were confirmed. He said two of the victims remained hospitalized, and one worker had been treated and released.

Tests done on the worker who died last Friday confirmed that his pneumonia was caused by the legionella bacteria, a statement from the health department said.

In an interview before tests confirmed the Legionnaires' diagnosis, members of the man's family said they feared for other workers at the plant.

"My dad may not be the only death from this case and that's a scary thought," said daughter Hilah Chokan.

Horgan said the county, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is checking into 10 other possible cases of the disease. He said, however, that the individuals could simply be suffering from colds or flu, and test results will not be known for days. All but one of the cases authorities are checking involve Ford workers, he said.

"I am not worried about some huge outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Cuyahoga County," he said, noting the disease is not transmitted person to person.

An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people get Legionnaires' disease in the United States each year, according to the CDC. Most people recover, but between 5 percent and 30 percent who get the disease die. Symptoms include fever, chills and a cough, often accompanied by pneumonia.

Horgan said there has been another recent case of Legionnaires' disease in the county, but that person lived in a different part of town and did not work in the Ford plant.

Legionnaires' disease is an acute, respiratory bacterial infection. An outbreak of the disease in Philadelphia in 1976, largely among people attending a convention of the American Legion, led to its name.

The disease is usually spread through mist that comes from a water source, such as cooling towers, air conditioning or showers.

Horgan said county health officials and members of the CDC were at the plant in Brook Park Thursday, checking for the possible source of the bacteria.

Approximately 2,500 people work at the casting plant, which won't reopen until authorities disinfect it, Miller said. "We're determined to do the right thing for our employees," he said.

One Ford worker said the plant closing was a wise precaution. "It's better to be safe," he said, adding that he hoped the plant would running by Monday.



RELATED STORIES:
Two workers possible victims of Legionnaires'
Legionnaires' disease strikes new hospital

RELATED SITES:
CDC: Legionnaires' Disease
OSHA: Legionnaires' Disease

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