An Athens County health official on Tuesday confirmed that within the last week, two cases of Legionnaire's disease have been diagnosed at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens.
One case reportedly involves a graduate student at Ohio University; the other, an out-of-county resident who apparently just came to O'Bleness as the nearest available hospital.
"We're looking at this very closely," said Chuck Hammer, administrator of the Athens City-County Health Department. "We've been aware of this since late last week."
OU spokeswoman Jennifer Krisch confirmed Tuesday morning that "Yes, we have a graduate student with a confirmed case of Legionnaire's disease." She referred questions about the case to the Health Department.
In an internal OU e-mail obtained by The Athens NEWS, Steven Ross, director of the university's School of Film, advised people in his department Sunday that a graduate student in that department had been taken ill the previous week and diagnosed with Legionnaire's Disease at O'Bleness.
According to the email message, the graduate student, who is from New York, was transferred to a Columbus hospital.
Calls to the Columbus hospital seeking information on the student's condition were not returned by the time this story was posted Tuesday.
Legionnaire's disease is an acute respiratory infection caused by the Legionella bacteria.
According to Hammer of the Health Department, it is typically spread not from person to person, but though an infected shared water supply such as a hot tub, sprinkler system or air conditioner.
Hammer stressed that the disease poses a threat mainly to vulnerable populations such as the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.
"Generally speaking, Legionnaire's disease can be quite mild," he said.
Hammer said that state health officials have been informed of the two recent Athens County cases, and that investigators are working to try to find out if the two people diagnosed with the disease have any overlapping recent history, to suggest where they might have picked up the bacterium.
"There's a little detective work that goes on," he explained. Just because the two cases were both diagnosed in Athens County, he said, does not necessarily mean the source of the infection is here.
"There are a couple of cases of Legionella (locally), but we don't know where they originated," he said.
Hammer said he has heard from state health officials that there has been a "small uptick" in reports of Legionnaire's disease across Ohio recently.
Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Tessie Pollock confirmed that a number of cases of Legionnaire's disease are currently under investigation statewide, but added that these do not appear to be connected.
"So far, there is no indication of there being an outbreak," Pollock said.