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Working to stop the spread of Legionnaires’ disease in Winston-Salem

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Forsyth County officials have confirmed a seventh case of Legionnaires' disease stemming from the water at a Winston-Salem nursing home. However, they have been unable to rid the facility of the Legionella bacteria and people are still in the building.

The first cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported at the Oak Forest Health and Rehabilitation Center back in June. Legionnaires' is a disease which can cause upper respiratory issues. It can be contracted through breathing in water vapor or mist contaminated by the Legionella bacteria.

"It's unfortunate that this happened in a facility like this one," said Marlon Hunter, director of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health. "That is the worst place you would want to find it."

Hunter says the facility has complied with everything required of them by the state, as well as the CDC. These are steps including flushing out the water system, treating the water, adding water filters and bringing in new water for residents to use. However, after the cycle of requirements, the bacteria is still present and they're not sure it ever left. Therefore, they must do it again.

Hunter says they have narrowed down the source of the bacteria to one wing of the building, yet residents are still in that wing.

Hunter says although the number of infected residents is rising, they do not know of anyone who has died from the disease. However, one man says his wife died after getting the disease at the nursing home.

"She swelled up like a balloon," said Billie Waddell, whose wife, Wilma contracted the disease.

Waddell says Wilma was in the hospital, but then returned to the facility.

"She went back up there to the rest home for one day, the next day she was back in the hospital, and they found out she had a collapsed lung and she didn't make it," said Waddell.

Waddell says he has not proven that it was Legionnaires' that killed his wife. He said he has requested his wife's medical records, but says officials told him it would be at least two more weeks before he gets them.

An official with the nursing home says it's up to county officials to decide whether or not to shut down the facility.

"I can't really articulate to you at this moment what would happen or what we might do," said Hunter. "We'll just have to see when the time comes."

Officials with Oak Forest say they have scheduled a meeting with patients and their families to discuss the disease. That meeting is scheduled to take place at the facility, Tuesday night at 6.