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Man recovering after contracting Legionnaire’s disease

A worker who in October contracted a form of Legionnaire’s disease less commonly seen in Canada, is now recovering at his Delta home after his near brush with death.

Peter Rogal, who works at the City of Richmond’s composting facility on Sidaway Road, began to experience flu-like symptoms before going to a walk-in clinic in late October, where he was told to go home as he appeared to just be suffering from the flu.

But a few days later, when his condition worsened, he was taken to Ladner Hospital, where his condition deteriorated to the point he had to be placed in a medically-induced coma.

Rogal was then taken to Surrey Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit, and might have died had it not been for a medical device know as an ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

The device, from Royal Columbian Hospital, enabled his lungs to recover from a Legionella longbeachae infection with the help of broad-range antibiotics, while the device supplied oxygen to his bloodstream, which kept him alive.

Reached at his home, Rogal declined to comment, his strong, clear voice giving no hint of his recovery.

But according to a source familiar with the situation, Rogal came down with a form of Legionnaire’s disease more commonly found in Australia.

“He spent almost two weeks in a coma, and then a few more in (Royal Columbian Hospital). He lost over 30 pounds, and along with kidney failure and many other possible side effects, his body was so badly atrophied, he couldn’t even stand up,” the source said. “He was a very healthy guy and this Legionella almost killed him; he was very lucky to survive.”

WorkSafeBC investigated, and initially concluded the illness was work-related. But the City of Richmond appealed the conclusion.

Last week, WorkSafeBC said it didn’t have an update, but the letter indicates that two inspections of the Sidaway soil facility have been conducted by “guys in white suits.”

“...We are continuing to work with this employer, but we don’ t have any new information to share at this time,” said WorkSafeBC spokesperson Megan Johnston.

City of Richmond spokesperson Ted Townsend said the city has suspended operations relating to composting at the work site. Townsend said the city doesn’t believe there’s conclusive evidence that Rogal’s illness was cause at the work site.

“But we’re doing our due diligence to manage or eliminate any potential risk, if there is one.”

For employees who continue to work at the site, they have the option to wear a standard paper mask or something more robust, Townsend said.

Legionella longbeachae is less common in Canada than its water-borne cousin Legionella pneumophila. Breathed in, it can multiply in the lungs and cause a serious and sometimes deadly infection, with symptoms ranging from high fever, chills to coughing, pain in the chest and difficulty breathing.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, medical director at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said the legionella bacteria are naturally found in the environment and can survive for long periods in wet environments.

The water-born variant lives in wet environments such as hot tubs and air conditioning systems, and people can become infected by inhaling the spray or mist from contaminated water sources.

The province normally sees three or four cases per year.

The key is early treatment, which can be a challenge since it is so uncommon.

Henry said she’s “not very concerned about composting” as a potential source for the bacteria. She said there are simple steps people can take to reduce their likelihood of contracting the illness, such as regularly cleaning their air conditioning units and treating their water.

Legionnaire’s disease earned its name after an outbreak of the disease in Philadelphia in 1976, largely among people attending a state convention of the American Legion.

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, there were 11 cases of legionellosis in B.C. in 2012, the highest number in the previous 10 years, and with half the cases reported from Fraser Health Authority. There were no cases in Richmond that year, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

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