Guildford Walmart Supercentre has re-opened following a temporary closure related to testing for legionnaires’ disease in cooling towers and fountains.
Anika Malik, director of corporate affairs at Walmart Canada, said Saturday morning (Sept. 8) that the store is open once again. The Guildford location closed its doors Friday (Sept. 7) out of an “abundance of caution,” according to Dr. Aamir Bharmal, a medical health officer with Fraser Health.
“We were contacted by the Public Health Agency (Fraser Health) who were investigating the source of Legionnaires’ in the community,” Malik said in an emailed statement. “The safety of our associates and customers is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we voluntarily decided to temporarily close our store while taking steps to deep clean and sanitize our cooling towers which support our refrigeration units.”
The refrigeration units, according to the statement, remain off until a public health inspection takes place, but added the public health agency has “confirmed (Walmart is) able to open the store without offering refrigerated or frozen products at this time.”
“While the disposal of food is not required in addressing potential Legionnaires’, turning off the store’s refrigeration units means we cannot sell refrigerated or frozen products until the coolers are turned back on,” the statement reads.
Bharmal said Friday that Fraser Health is in the early stages of the investigation.
“The point that we want to make is both the Guildford Town Centre as well as Walmart are taking actions right away through an abundance of caution,” Bharmal said. “They are going ahead and cleaning out these sources right away. We would still want them to resample and make sure that there’s no Legionella.”
Meanwhile, Guildford Town Centre remained open. In an emailed statement, Guildford Town Centre said it has “fully collaborated and complied” with all requests from Fraser Health, adding that they have been advised there was “no public health concern within the shopping centre.”
The statement from Guildford adds that Walmart is in a separate building with its own operating and cooling systems.
Late Friday night, Fraser Health posted to social media reassuring people that “most healthy people do not get sick from being exposed to legionella,” adding that the bacteria is “not spread from person to person.”
The post, which was on both Facebook and Twitter, said people who are elderly, smokers, people with chronic lung conditions and who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of getting sick.
“Only if you develop pneumonia-like symptoms such as a fever, shortness of breath, severe fatigue, abdominal pain and diarrhea – AND have been in the Surrey Guildford area over the past 10 days, should you seek medical attention for testing, advice, and treatment,” the post reads.
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, legionnaires’ is a form of a disease called legionellosis, “an uncommon respiratory infection caused by legionella pneumophila bacteria.” The BCDC’s website said legionella infections are rare in B.C. with 34 cases reported to the BCDC from 1999 through to 2008.
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms, according to the BCDC, start an average of five to six days after exposure to the bacteria.
A bulletin from Fraser Health on Aug. 31 notes that legionella is commonly found in the environment, “particularly freshwater, groundwater and soil.”
“The bacterium can grow and spread in human-made building water systems like cooling towers, hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use, decorative fountains, and large plumbing systems,” reads the bulletin.”
Legionella update: Health officials confirm Guildford Town Centre in #Surrey and Walmart have responded quickly and started deep cleaning suspected sites, minimizing public risk. People should feel comfortable visiting these sites. @ShopGTC
— Fraser Health (@Fraserhealth) September 7, 2018
Cluster cases of legionnaires’ disease were confirmed in Surrey as of Aug. 31 after Fraser Health released a statement notifying the public.
— With files from Tom Zytaruk