Fourteen people living in or near the city of Gloucester fell ill with Legionnaires' disease caused by Legionella pneumophila serogroup (SG) 1 between 27 August and 27 October 1986. Another patient had fallen ill on 30 May. Nine of the 15 were diagnosed retrospectively during a case finding exercise. There were three deaths. Three cases of Pontiac fever were also diagnosed.
The source was probably one or more wet cooling towers. Nineteen premises in the city with such towers were identified, and three just outside Gloucester. Samples from 11 of the 22 premises grew Legionella spp.; from nine of these L. pneumophila SG 1 (Pontiac) was isolated. The efficacy of regular addition of biocide in addition to hypochlorite added at the time of disinfection in inhibiting the growth of Legionella spp. was demonstrated.
A survey of patients' movements during their likely incubation period showed that there was no single building that all patients had visited, but there were two areas of the city which nearly all had visited or passed through by car. A case-control study demonstrated an association with one of these areas.
Cooling towers near both areas may have been sources but the evidence is insufficient to incriminate any single one. The unexpected finding of L. pneumophila SG 1 (Pontiac) in nine towers supports the hypothesis that there may have been multiple sources. Cooling towers may have been contaminated by mains water or by drift from other towers.