Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hamilton officials bury Legionnaires' outbreak

The Hamilton Spectator has a story this morning that is taking many people completely by surprise. One person died and ten were made ill by an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease during the summer, and the area of contagion covered pretty much the entire downtown of Hamilton; but incredibly public health officials kept the story under wraps until now. Mayor Larry DiIanni claims he didn't want to create a public panic as they didn't know where the source of the disease and didn't want to mislead people, but that's a cop-out.

It was an unusually hot summer here in Southern Ontario, and it's well known Legionnaires is spread by bacteria that builds up in unmaintained air conditioning units. To its credt, the city did the right thing by cleaning out its units as soon as they suspected something was up; and quietly asked building owners to check out theirs. But is it so hard to tell people that there is a problem and it might be a good idea to stay away from certain facilities for a few days while the outbreak is contained?

We demanded, and got city officials, to tell people if a restaurant or a grocery store has safe food handling procedures through a colour-coded notification system at the front door of every such establishment. Vans roam the streets late at night offering condoms and clean hypodermic needles to drug addicts; and our tax dollars also support local birth control facilities such as Planned Parenthood et sequens. (Vancouver even has a safe-injection clinic, which has been saved by the bell for the time being.) Yet our public health officials can't be bothered to tell us that there's something out there that might be causing severe diarrehea?

This can't be tolerated. I don't know if any other mayor would have handled this differently, but DiIanni lost my confidence a long time ago and this one seals the deal. He won't get my vote in this fall's elections, period. It's the mayor's job to protect the health of his or her citizens, and he dropped the bomb.

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