Legionnaires Outbreak In Poland Being Investigated As Potential Bioterrorism
An ongoing outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in southeastern Poland, near the Ukraine border, has prompted interventions from the Polish internal security agency. Over the past four days, authorities have not found any signs of deliberate spread of the disease, but are continuing to investigate.
RZESZÓW — An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in southeastern Poland, near the border with Ukraine, is being investigated by the Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego (ABW), Poland’s Internal Security Agency, as a potential attack of bioterrorism.
Since the outbreak began on Aug. 17, a total of 153 people have been hospitalized for Legionnairee's disease — a severe form of pneumonia— and 14 people have died.
Stanisław Żaryn, Deputy Minister Coordinator of Special Services, released a statement on Monday with the initial findings of the investigation, which began on Aug. 25. "For now, it seems that we are not dealing with any deliberate actions against Poland," he said in a statement, reported on Polsat news.
Żaryn, who said the investigation will continue, explained that if any such intentional actions actions are discovered, they would be classified as "bioterrorism.”
Source of infection unknown
The deaths from Legionnaires' disease, which spreads through contaminated droplets of water, were concentrated in the city of Rzeszów, which has seen a total of 103 hospitalizations, and the surrounding areas. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the city has become a transport center for military equipment coming from the West into Ukraine — which piqued the interest of domestic security agents, who will continue to investigate the case in order to rule out the possibility of deliberate tampering with the water supply.
Rzeszów Mayor Konrad Fijołek believes that climate change is to blame for the outbreak. "It seems that one of the elements that may be conducive to the development of bacteria is, unfortunately, the climate that is deteriorating and intensifying in our country", Fijołek told Radio ZET. “This may be one of the reasons, or one of a combination of causes, resulting in bacterial multiplication.”
Legionnaires' disease is no joke.
Since the outbreak began, the city has made the decision to close all swimming pools, water fountains and drinking fountains, and will continue to investigate the source of the disease in collaboration with the sanitary inspectorate. Municipal authorities have also conducted a disinfection of the water supply in Rzeszów and its surroundings.
“The obtained results and information from epidemiological interviews do not provide grounds for determining the potential source of infection,” Adam Sidor, the provincial sanitary inspector, told Gazeta Wyborcza.
X-ray image of lungs affected by Legionnaires' disease-linked pneumonia
Currently, all of those who died from the bacterial infection were individuals from 64 to 95 years old with preexisting health conditions. According to the WHO, Legionnaire's disease is the most dangerous infection linked to water-borne bacteria, with a death rate of 5-10%. Among people with preexisting conditions, this number rises to between 30 and 50%.
Health professionals in Poland are continuing to advise taking precautions, such as boiling all tap water in areas affected by the bacterium. “If someone starts to have symptoms of infection, they should see a doctor. Legionnaires' disease is no joke,” Dr. Lidia Stopyra, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Pediatrics at the Stefan Żeromski Specialist Hospital in Kraków told Wysokie Obcasy magazine. "We should be careful until the source of infection is determined and the epidemic is under control, especially since the bacterium is starting to spread to other regions”
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