Transient worker contracts deadly legionnaires' disease

Kelly BellNorth West Telegraph
Site notices were placed on room doors at Club Hamilton to notify residents of the diagnosis.
Camera IconSite notices were placed on room doors at Club Hamilton to notify residents of the diagnosis. Credit: North West Telegraph

The Town of Port Hedland and the Department of Health are investigating sources of legionnaires' bacteria after a transient workers' camp resident spent a week fighting the potentially deadly disease in a Perth hospital.

The Hamilton Village resident, a Jan De Nul employee, was staying at the Fortescue Metals Group camp in South Hedland when he fell ill.

The Department of Health confirmed the man was treated for legionnaire pneumophilia, an unusual type of legionnaires' disease earlier this month.

The man, an Australian citizen, was transferred to Royal Perth Hospital via the Royal Flying Doctor Service from the Hedland Health Campus after his pneumonia-like symptoms deteriorated rapidly.

Caused by legionella pneumophia bacteria, the man's symptoms developed within two to 10 days after he came into contact with the bacteria, usually associated with warm water environments such as cooling towers and evaporative air-conditioners.

Symptoms include fever and chills, a dry cough, severe headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

WA Country Health Service public health physician Dr Heather Lyttle said a health alert was not issued because the illness could not be directly spread from one person to another.

She said of the 50 to 95 cases of legionnaires' disease reported in WA each year, less than 20 per cent were caused by waterborne legionella pneumophia.

Before falling ill, the man had spent several weeks during February working on a dredge in Port Hedland. He had previously travelled to the Pilbara from Singapore on a JDN vessel.

A site notice issued to residents of Club Hamilton on Sunday, March 9 outlined how the resident had spent the previous week in intensive care fighting the waterborne disease.

However, last week a spokesman for FMG moved to refute the camp was a possible source of bacteria.

"Potential sources of legionnaires' disease - evaporative air-conditioning units and potting mix - do not exist at Hamilton Village," he said. "As a precautionary measure we are undertaking testing around the site."

JDN assistant area manager Boudewijn van de Veire said the company was committed to providing a risk-free work environment and testing was being undertaken on the vessel.

"The warm water systems (on the barge) are treated in accordance with the fresh water manuals onboard which outline effective management measures," he said.

The man has been discharged from RPH and is recovering at home with his family.

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