A 1957 outbreak of legionnaires' disease associated with a meat packing plant

Michael T. Osterholm, Tom D.Y. Chin, Donald O. Osborne, H. Bruce Dull, Andrew G. Dean, David W. Fraser, Peggy S. Hayes, William N. Hall

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Retrospective study shows that a 1957 outbreak of pneumonia in Austin, Minnesota, was Legionnaires1 disease. Between June 7 and August 9, 1957, 78 persons were hospitalized with acute respiratory disease of unknown cause. Most had fever, headache, cough, and pneumonitis; two died. Ages ranged from 14-83 years; half of the patients were aged 55 years or older. Eighty-seven per cent were men. There were no secondary cases. Forty-six (59%) of the 78 patients were employees at a local meat packing plant, in distinction to the area's total working population (32%). Serosurvey of 15 of the 1957 outbreak cases and 30 controls matched for age, sex, and either occupation or residence was carried out in 1979. Antibody titers were determined for Legionella pneumophila serogroups 1-4 by means of indirect im-munofluorescence. Twelve (80%) of the 15 cases and 13 (43%) of the 30 controls had antibody titers of 1: 64 or greater to one or more of the L. pneumophila serogroups. Significant differences in L. pneumophila antibody titers (prevalence and level) were found between cases and control groups matched for residence (serogroups 1-3) or occupation (serogroups 2 and 3). Only three of 20 Austin residents with pneumonia diagnosed between 1978 and 1980 had L. pneumophila antibody titers of 1: 128 or greater (p ≪ 0.001), in comparison to cases. These serologic data and the 1957 clinical and epidemi-ologic observations support the contention that this is the earliest documented outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-67
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1983


  • Legionella
  • Legionnaires' disease


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