Second round of Parma church testing for Legionnaires’ bacteria comes up negative

August 10, 2018 GMT

Second round of Parma church testing for Legionnaires’ bacteria comes up negative

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A second round of testing in a Parma church linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that hospitalized 10 people and killed one woman found no live Legionella bacteria, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health reported today.

That doesn’t mean the church building wasn’t the source of the outbreak, though, health investigators say.

Testing at St. Columbkille Parish Roman Catholic Church began July 23 after people with connections to the church began falling ill in early June. Public health investigators suspected the church’s cooling tower, part of its air conditioning system, as the source of the Legionnaires’ cases as these systems have been implicated in many other outbreaks.


Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of lung infection, or pneumonia, which is caused by inhaling or aspirating Legionella bacteria. The disease can’t be spread from person to person. Those at highest risk for infection with the bacteria are people over age 50, smokers, and those with chronic lung disease, cancer and otherwise weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.

While no live Legionella was found in the two rounds of sampling at St. Columbkille, the board of health is not planning any further testing and is recommending that the church overhaul its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to make them safer. There are several reasons for the recommendation, said Chris Kippes, director of epidemiology, surveillance and informatics at the board of health.

First, the St. Columbkille cooling tower is in the basement, with grates in an area where parishioners often pass, he said. Most air conditioning cooling towers are on roofs, where mist and condensation from the units are further from people.

Second, while the testing came back negative, this does not mean the air conditioning system was not the source of the outbreak. Sampling only captures a “snapshot” of the conditions at the time, and may have missed bacteria that were in the system when the outbreak occurred weeks earlier, Kippes said.

The church’s air conditioning unit has been off since July 19 when investigations began.

Health investigators did find nonviable, or dead, Legionella in a basement water fountain at St. Columbkille Parish Roman Catholic Church, but emphasized that this finding was not unusual.

“The bacteria is naturally occurring in our water sources, and to find it dead could just mean that the chlorine in our water system is doing its job,” said Chris Kippes, “If you were to [test samples] in other buildings you could have very similar findings.”


The board of health is not recommending the water fountain be removed or replaced.

A first round of samples taken July 23 from the church’s cooling tower reservoir, a part of the building’s cooling system, came back negative Aug. 1. Today’s results were from potable water sources within the church, such as water fountains and bathroom sinks and faucets, as well as air handling units. The second samples were collected July 26. 

Based on the results, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health is recommending that St. Columbkille:

Discontinue use of the church’s basement cooling tower “as its present design, location, maintenance and operation pose a significant health risk;“Develop and implement a comprehensive water management plan for all parish facility water sources. The parish complex includes a chapel, rectory, credit union and elementary school;Put best management practices in place for its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on the parish campus.