Epidemiological investigation of a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Christchurch, New Zealand: the value of spatial methods for practical public health

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Between April and August 2005 Christchurch, New Zealand experienced an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. There were 19 laboratory-confirmed case including three deaths. Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 (Lpsg1) was identified as the causative agent for all cases. A case-control study indicated a geographical association between the cases but no specific common exposures. Rapid spatial epidemiological investigation confirmed the association and identified seven spatially significant case clusters. The clusters were all sourced in the same area and exhibited a clear anisotropic process (noticeable direction) revealing a plume effect consistent with aerosol dispersion from a prevailing southwesterly wind. Four out of five cases tested had indistinguishable allele profiles that also matched environmental isolates from a water cooling tower within the centre of the clusters. This tower was considered the most probable source for these clusters. The conclusion would suggest a maximum dispersal distance in this outbreak of 11·6 km. This work illustrated the value of geostatistical techniques for infectious disease epidemiology and for providing timely information during outbreak investigations.

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