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Third Chesterfield school found with presence of Legionella bacteria

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Falling Creek Middle School is closed Wednesday "out of an abundance of caution" as the school division investigates test results that showed higher-than-expected levels of Legionella on an outside cooling tower.

The Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia. Since May, there are 10 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Chesterfield County. On average, the county normally sees three cases of the disease each year.

Falling Creek Middle School is now the third Chesterfield school to tested positive for Legionella bacteria including, Greenfield Elementary School and Midlothian Middle School.

The bacteria was also found in cooling towers at Johnston Willis Hospital in the 1400 block of Johnston Willis Dr., the Richmond Ice Zone in the 600 block of Johnston Willis Dr., the U.S. Defense Supply Center Richmond in the 8000 block of Jefferson Davis Highway, and Reynolds Metals in the 2000 block of Reymet Road.

Falling Creek Middle

“Multiple buildings and businesses in the county have been tested as health officials attempt to determine the cause for the increase in cases and to identify any possible sources of exposure to Legionella,” said school officials in a message to parents.

Those officials say no Falling Creek Middle students or staff have reported any related illnesses to them or the county health department.

School officials say a test was conducted on an outside cooling tower located near the school building and the school division has taken measures to disinfect the outside cooling tower and conduct additional maintenance.

A neighbor said she's seen workers going in and out of the middle school since the last day of school.

"I know they had construction over there last month," she recalled. "If it’s making people sick I think they need to close the schools."

The neighbor who's lived near Falling Creek Middle for more than a decade said, "I just pray for the people that’s there that’s been exposed to [the bacteria]."

Officials say the investigation is currently aimed at ruling out possible sources.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said the disease is “more common and more severe” in people who are 50-years or older, current/former smokers, those with “underlying lung disease (such as emphysema), and people with weakened immune systems.”

VDH added the bacteria occurs naturally in the environment and grows best in warm water, such as is found in air conditioning cooling towers.

The Chesterfield Health District said, out of an abundance of caution, anyone who becomes “ill with pneumonia-like or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and headache promptly seek medical care.”

This is a developing story.

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