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Legionnaires' Disease Claims Seven Lives in Eastern Poland

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Photo: Legionnaires' Disease Claims Seven Lives in Eastern Poland. Source: Collage The Gaze
Photo: Legionnaires' Disease Claims Seven Lives in Eastern Poland. Source: Collage The Gaze

Poland's internal security officers are actively investigating the source of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that has tragically claimed the lives of seven individuals and infected over 100 others in the strategic city of Rzeszów, located near the border with Ukraine. 

This development has been reported by the authorities, as covered by Associated Press.

The Rzeszów region in southeastern Poland serves as a pivotal transit center for international military support to Ukraine, particularly after Russia's full-scale invasion last year. Notably, around 10,000 American military personnel are stationed in this area.

Officials from the Internal Security Agency have been exploring various locations in Rzeszów, focusing primarily on the water supply system, which experts suspect could be the origin of the bacterial infection.

Stanisław Zaryn, Deputy of the Minister Coordinator of Special Services, cited one reason for the investigation as Russia's potential attempt to sow "panic" among Ukraine's allies. "This factor prompted us to take action to eliminate certain scenarios," Zaryn commented.

At least 113 residents in Rzeszów, situated approximately 50 miles from the Ukrainian border, have been infected. The victims, predominantly elderly individuals with pre-existing chronic conditions, are said to have succumbed to the disease. Local authorities and experts have labeled the situation as unusual.

During a crisis meeting on Thursday, municipal authorities decided to disinfect over 1000 kilometers of water pipelines in Rzeszów using chlorine and ozone. This disinfection process is set to occur on Saturday. Residents have been advised to allow the chlorinated water to rest and then boil it before consumption. Authorities assure that the chlorine level used will be safe for human health.

The bacterial infection of the Legionella type is increasingly spreading across the Subcarpathian region. On August 22, the head of the Rzeszów Sanitary Inspection, Jaromir Ślączka, reported one fatal case and 51 hospitalized patients. Since then, six more deaths have been recorded.

The Sanitary and Epidemiological Unit also revealed that as of August 25, there have been 113 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease among patients hospitalized in Rzeszów and the surrounding areas, including Dembitz, Przemyśl, Kolbuszowa, Lancut, and Stary Sącz in Lesser Poland.

The cause of the outbreak remains unknown. The Department of Health is conducting an epidemiological investigation to determine the infection's source. Water samples are also being collected for laboratory analysis, with results expected in the coming week.

"The Ministry of Health needs to find a common source, a common denominator that links all infected individuals. Perhaps they all visited one place?" says Lidia Stopyra, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Pediatrics at the Specialized Hospital in Krakow. She emphasizes that epidemiological investigations will likely reveal more, as it's unlikely that sudden, independent outbreaks of legionellosis occurred in multiple locations simultaneously. Such epidemics are rare, she notes.

Legionnaires' disease is a lung infection caused by inhaling contaminated water droplets, not by consuming water. Typically, it can be contracted in places like hotels, hospitals, or offices where the Legionella bacteria enter water supply systems, such as air conditioning systems or infrequently used taps and showers.

As a NATO member, Poland supports Ukraine in military, political, and humanitarian realms. The Polish government asserts that the nation has faced various forms of Russia's hybrid warfare.

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