Airmen warned not to use water amid Legionella outbreak at Lajes Field

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American airmen are being warned not to use water from some Portuguese Air Force-maintained buildings at an airfield in the Azores amid an outbreak of Legionella bacteria.

According to an email shared with Air Force Times and confirmed by the Air Force, contaminated water was discovered at two buildings at Lajes Field in late March. The base, home to the 65th Air Base Group, offers an important stop on long military flights, earning the field the moniker the “Crossroads of the Atlantic.”

The U.S. water supply on the base remains safe, and no American airmen have gotten sick, said Lan Kim, a spokesperson for the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, which oversees the 65th Air Base Group at Lajes. The contamination is now confined to one building, and bottled water is being distributed to those working there.

The bacteria can cause Legionnaire’s disease, a severe form of pneumonia, or the flu-like Pontiac Fever. It is more commonly spread by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water, but can also spread if water gets into the lungs while drinking.

“If personnel assigned to Lajes Field are experiencing [gastrointestinal] symptoms, nausea, vomiting and fever, they should immediately contact the military aid station,” Kim said.

The airfield, which sits about 1,000 miles from the coast of Lisbon, offers strategic positioning for bombers and fighter jets and serves as a logistics and communications hub for U.S Transportation Command, U.S. European Command and America’s allies.

Approximately 600 people, including U.S. military personnel, work at the base, according to DOD.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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