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Court bailiffs told not to fear disease outbreak

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


LARGO -- Pinellas health officials came out to the criminal courthouse on Tuesday to dampen the rumor mill and tell bailiffs they aren't in the midst of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak.

LARGO -- Pinellas health officials came out to the criminal courthouse on Tuesday to dampen the rumor mill and tell bailiffs they aren't in the midst of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak.

Blood tests in recent months have found that seven bailiffs at the 49th Street complex carry an antibody for Legionnaires'. That doesn't mean they have the disease or are going to get it. Instead, it simply means they've been exposed to the bacteria at some point in their lives.

A clerk of courts employee who works in the building has also said she tested positive for the Legionnaires' antibody.

"We're concerned that you're concerned," Diana Jordan, a specialist in communicable diseases with the Pinellas Health Department, told more than two dozen bailiffs.

But she reassured them, "We don't have an outbreak."

The bailiffs independently decided to get the tests with their own doctors after one bailiff became ill and tested positive earlier this year. But health officials said he did not have Legionnaires'.

Only nine of the county's 133 bailiffs have gotten the test. But of those nine, seven have tested positive for the Legionnaires' antibody.

In the general population, health officials say, up to 20 percent of all people carry the Legionnaires' antibody, the overwhelming majority without ever getting the potentially deadly respiratory infection.

But absent symptoms of Legionnaires', such as pneumonia, a high fever and muscle aches, Jordan told the crowd the positive tests don't indicate a problem with the building.

County building officials say monthly tests at the courthouse indicate no Legionnaires' disease in places where it is likely to be found, such as air-conditioning cooling towers.

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