Guildford Walmart Supercentre closed Friday afternoon as health authorities tested for Legionnaires disease in cooling towers and fountains, but a medical health officer says “this shouldn’t be means for panic.”
“We are in the early stages of this investigation right now,” said Dr. Aamir Bharmal, of Fraser Health.
“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.”
Anika Malik, director of corporate affairs with Walmart Canada, said the decision to close was made with staff and customers in mind.
“The safety of our associates and customers is our top priority,” ” Malik said in an emailed statement to the Now-Leader. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have voluntarily temporarily closed our Guildford store.”
Meanwhile, Guildford Town Centre said the mall is remaining open.
“We have fully collaborated and complied with all requests from Fraser Health Authority in light of recent health concerns in the Guildford community,” said Kyla Way, marketing director for Guildford Town Centre. “Throughout the process, we have been advised there was no public health concern within the shopping centre.”
The Fraser Health Authority is still trying to identify the source of the Legionnaires’ disease bacteria, called Legionella, that resulted in a public bulletin being issued on Aug. 31st about a “cluster of cases” in Guildford.
Bharmal said that after speaking with patients to find out where they’d been authorities were led to the Walmart and Guildford Town Centre.
“So we had our staff go and do environmental assessments there, inspections as well as testing and sampling, looking specifically at these man-made building water systems, things like cooling towers, fountains and water features, these types of things.”
“From that sampling we have found that some of the cooling towers have come back positive for Legionella,” Bharmal said. “There are a number of cooling towers at Guildford mall as well as at Walmart. Walmart has one of its own cooling towers and Guildford has a number of them, like about eight.”
“Some of those have come back positive and so what our suggestion has been been both for the mall as well as for Walmart is to shut down those cooling towers and do cleaning as well as as remediation to make sure they’re getting rid of that Legionella bacteria that’s there.”
“It’s not necessarily surprising that we’re seeing Legionella growing there,” Bharmal said. “We know that Legionella grows naturally in the environment in places like fresh water, ground water and soil. The fact that we’re seeing it here isn’t surprising but it’s undesirable.”
Meantime, Bharmal said health authorities “may potentially identify other potential sources. With that, we’ll still need to do further testing and investigation and there’s still some more confirmatory testing that needs to be done in the coming days to weeks that will really help us pinpoint what that source is.”
“We just have information here that shows people went there who got sick, and then we also saw that some of these cooling towers were positive for that,” he said, but added he couldn’t say they were the definitive sources of the cluster of Legionnaire’s disease cases in Guildford.
“We still have some of that confirmatory testing that would need to be done to say whether all of these cases are necessarily linked and people are getting sick from the same source or not.”
The bulletin issued by Fraser Health said it had been “made aware of a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in the Guildford area of Surrey” and recommended that anyone with pneumonia-like symptoms who smokes, is elderly, has a compromised immune system or suffers from chronic lung conditions and had been in Guildford within 10 days of Aug. 21st to see a doctor “for testing, advise, and treatment.”
It can be contracted by breathing in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacterium, the bulletin notes. Most healthy people don’t get the disease after being exposed. Those who do can develop pneumonia, fever, shortness of breathe, severe fatigue, abdominal pain and diarrhea.