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Scotland : outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease leaving more than 50 sick

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Edinburgh is battling a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, with the number of confirmed and suspected cases now standing at 51, Scotland’s health minister said Thursday. 

Officials are still trying to track down the source of Scotland’s worst outbreak since the 1980s, which has hit the southwest of the capital, killing a 56-year-old man.

The number of confirmed cases has risen to 24, while a further 27 people are suspected to have the illness, Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told the parliament in Edinburgh.

Of the total 51 people, 14 are being treated in intensive care. Sturgeon warned that more cases are likely to emerge in the coming days.

“Across Europe, outbreaks are not uncommon, with dozens of outbreaks per annum and thousands of cases,” she told lawmakers.

“However, outbreaks of the size we are currently seeing here in Edinburgh are rare in Scotland — the last time we had an outbreak of this scale was, I understand, in the 1980s in Glasgow.”

The disease, caused by the bacteria Legionella, leads to a severe form of pneumonia, which can be fatal.

It is contracted through inhalation of contaminated water droplets and is not known to be transmitted from person to person.

After an initial case came to light a week ago, a second was confirmed on Saturday, and two more on Sunday.

Most outdoor outbreaks of Legionnaires’ are linked to industrial cooling towers, and Sturgeon said action was taken on Sunday and Monday to treat these.

Cooling towers at four sites in the area were “shock dosed” with chemicals to treat bacterial growth, she said.

“The key message within southwest Edinburgh is that the risk to public health is low,” she added.

London, June 7, 2012 (AFP)