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Ford plant undergoing disinfection for Legionnaires' bacteria

County and CDC officials are investigating this Ford Motor Co. plant in Cleveland, Ohio, after a Legionnaires' disease outbreak  

Ohio autoworker's death blamed on the disease

March 16, 2001
Web posted at: 5:32 p.m. EST (2232 GMT)

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Disease claimed Henry Ford II


CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- Investigators looking for the source of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at a Ford Motor Co. factory in Ohio considered the plant's cooling tower on Friday as a possible source of the outbreak.

More than 100 other internal water sources -- favorite breeding grounds for the legionella bacteria -- were also under scrutiny.

Legionnaires' Disease

Special tests are required to diagnose Legionnaires' disease. Symptoms resemble those of a cold or flu and include:
 • Fever
 • Chills
 • Cough
 • Pneumonia

Anyone can get Legionnaires' disease, but some groups have a higher risk:
 • People middle-aged and older
 • Smokers
 • People with chronic lung disease
 • People with weakened immune systems

Legionnaires' disease spreads through mist from contaminated water sources such as air conditioning cooling towers, whirlpool spas or showers. It is not transmitted from person to person.

Legionnaires' disease is treated with antibiotics, usually erythromycin.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ford temporarily closed the facility Wednesday, and 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.

It's expected to take at least five days for health experts to complete tests on some 120 samples taken from the Brook Park plant, southwest of Cleveland. The facility assembles engines and manufactures castings for engines.

The process of cleaning and disinfecting the plant was about one-third complete Friday afternoon, according to a company official. Work will continue around-the-clock over the weekend.

Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Timothy Horgan said the plant was closed for tests and disinfecting after the third case was confirmed. Two of the victims remained hospitalized and one worker had been treated and released, he added.

Tests are underway on three other pneumonia cases that may have been caused by Legionnaires'.

"It is possible that one or two more cases may come up," said Dr. Beverly Blaney, a Ford doctor. The plant closed Wednesday, meaning a person infected before that time might still come down with the disease, she said.

Meanwhile, Blaney said she is combing through plant health records to identify any cases that previously were considered to be colds, bronchitis or influenza that might have been Legionnaires' disease.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health confirmed Thursday that a Ford employee who died last week of unspecified pneumonia had Legionellosis, a disease that took its name when a 1976 outbreak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, struck mainly people attending a convention of the American Legion.

The man who died, Donald Tafoya, 61, had worked at Cleveland Casting for 27 years.

Disease claimed Henry Ford II

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 to 30 percent who get the disease die. Symptoms include fever, chills and a cough, and it is often accompanied by pneumonia.

Henry Ford II, grandson of company founder Henry Ford, died of the disease in 1987 at the age of 70. Ford headed the company from 1945 to 1979.

Nearly 2,500 people work at the iron casting plant, which builds various engine parts for Ford vehicles, company spokesman Edward 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.

The closed plant is one of four facilities at Ford's Brook Park complex. Along with the iron casting plant shut down on Wednesday, the company operates two engine plants and an aluminum casting plant at the site.

Those three plants, employing another 2,500 employees, remain open.

The largely automated aluminum casting plant opened last July, while the other three plants opened in the 1950s.

Ford worker's death blamed on Legionnaires'; plant closes temporarily
March 15, 2001
Two workers possible victims of Legionnaires'
March 13, 2001
Legionnaires' disease strikes new hospital
December 30, 2000

CDC: Legionnaires' Disease
OSHA: Legionnaires' Disease

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