NBC News partner ITV News reports on the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Scotland.
By msnbc.com’s Alastair Jamieson and ITV News
LONDON — One man has died and 15 other people were listed in critical condition on Wednesday following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh, Scotland. Authorities believe the disease may have been spread by industrial cooling towers, potentially including some at a whisky distillery.
Public health officials were investigating a further 15 suspected cases of the disease and say more cases could emerge in the coming days.
The victim was a man aged in his 50s, who had underlying health problems, while 13 men and two women aged between 33 and 74 were in critical condition, according to The Scotsman newspaper.
The source of the outbreak is still being investigated.
The disease is contracted by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water, and is often traced to artificial water systems such as air conditioning units or cooling towers.
All the cases so far are linked to the Gorgie, Saughton and Dalry areas in the south-west of the city. Britain’s Sky News reported that samples have been taken from 16 cooling towers at four industrial sites in those areas. However, it will be days before any firm link can be established.
Sky News said one of the cooling towers being investigated was at a Scotch whisky plant while another was a shortbread cookie factory. There is no evidence either site is linked to the outbreak.
The first case was identified on May 28. Sky News said health officials believe infected droplets may have been in the air on May 20 when thousands gathered to watch a victory parade by local soccer team Heart of Midlothian.
The disease is named after its first recognized outbreak, which occurred among people attending a state convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia in 1976. That remains the world’s deadliest case, with 34 victims, and was traced to a hotel air conditioning system cooling tower.
According to the World Health Organization website, Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious and can take up to two weeks to develop.
Symptoms include mild headaches and muscle pain, escalating to a high fever, persistent cough and sometimes vomiting, diarrhea and confusion.