The Transmission

A pathway to our perspectives, announcements, and the latest animal health and food safety news.

Weekly Update: Legionnaires' disease found in MN; Heavy metals detected in juice; Abattoir caught in illegal activities

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Legionnaires’ disease in Alexandria

Two recent cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported at Alomere health hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Health is working with Alomere Health of Alexandria to investigate the cases. The initial case was reported late November 2018 and subsequently recovered, while a second case developed symptoms late January 2019 and remains in hospital.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria. People acquire the disease through inhalation of small water droplets containing the bacteria. The bacteria can grow and spread in human-made water systems and outbreaks are commonly associated with buildings or structures where these systems are complex, such as hospitals, cruise ships, and long-term care facilities. Symptoms include but are not limited to: fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, shortness of breath, and cough. People most at risk for developing symptoms are those over 50 years, smokers, and those with certain co-morbidities, although most people exposed to legionella bacteria do not develop clinical signs.

Almoere is conducting a complete assessment and testing of the facility’s water system and has implemented MDH recommendations to reduce the risk of exposure to patients and employees. Recommendations include not showering or using hand sprayers and that ICU patients use bottled water. These recommendations only apply to patients and employees at Alomere Health as Alexandria’s municipal water meets quality standards.




Heavy metals detected in juice

Consumer Reports found “concerning levels” of cadmium, arsenic and/or lead in 21 out of 45 fruit juices tested from 24 national and private-label brands. Juices tested included apple, grape, and juice blends. Two Welch’s products contained levels of lead that exceeded the standard for bottled water set by the FDA and Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice exceeded 10ppb threshold for arsenic.

A pediatrician on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health says that there are no safe levels of exposure to these heavy metals and the report demonstrates the need for FDA to update its standards. The FDA did proposed 10ppb limit on arsenic in apple juice several years back but no official guidelines have been published. Researchers at Dartmouth have shown that arsenic levels even below 10ppb may have adverse health effects on people and children. Difficulty lies in tracing the source of contaminants, trace levels of heavy metals can end up in food through a variety of sources including naturally in soil, pesticides, and water.

Identifying the threshold for arsenic in food and drinks is difficult because the science is not yet there to provide epidemiological data needed to set a standard. FDA does acknowledge that more work needs to be done to reduce levels of heavy metal contaminants in the food supply and reduce exposure to high risk groups including children that are more susceptible to their adverse health effects.



Abattoir caught red-handed

A film broadcasted by Polish TVN 24, revealed illegal activities in a north-eastern Poland abattoir. Poland’s chief veterinary officer says the abattoir carried out illegal activities, slaughtering deliberately at night in order to avoid official supervision.

The film displayed visibly sick cows and abattoir workers cutting carcasses. It is unclear where the processed meat was sent. Further investigation into the abattoir revealed additional sick cows on the premises, which were emergency slaughtered to prevent further suffering.

Poland is the 7th largest producer of beef in the EU and exports to many other EU member states. Officials and inspectors have been ordered to investigate other abattoir in the region to identify any buyers or sellers of meat from sick animals. This is a potentially serious revelation for the EU as it's still recovering from the not so long ago horse meat scandal in 2013.


Gus Brihn

Gus Brihn

Gus Brihn

Gus completed his undergraduate degree at the U of M in Global Studies, and has spent much of his time abroad, including time in France and Namibia. Gus became interested in emergency medicine from becoming a Wilderness First Responder and NR-EMT. He completed his veterinary degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Gus is interested in zoonotic disease outbreak investigation, prevention, and epidemiology. Outside of work, Gus enjoys rock climbing and doing Brazilian Jiu jitsu. He has an 11 year-old Staffordshire terrier mix breed dog named Sweet Pea.