Santee man dies after getting Legionella, leaving single mother to boost children

SANTEE, Calif. — Jessa Smith is trying to figure out where her husband may have contracted Legionnaires’ disease after the death of the father of three.

“No one knows exactly where they got it from. They assume it’s coming from (his work), like plumbing, because we didn’t have it at our house and he was going to work and home most of the time,” Smith said.

Smith’s husband Benjamin, 42, died March 1 after spending weeks in intensive care. The plumber was hospitalized on February 16 with a high fever, fatigue and shortness of breath.

His death came just days before a beloved San Diego State University professor died of Legionella pneumonia.

Benjamin’s death certificate listed legionella pneumonia, severe sepsis, and COVID-19 pneumonia as the causes of death.

His wife said he was immunocompromised and had overcome COVID a few months earlier but was otherwise doing well before contracting Legionella.

According to the CDC, people can contract it if they breathe in small droplets of water or accidentally swallow water that contains legionella bacteria.

San Diego County says it has 15 known cases of the disease and three deaths so far this year. On Monday, a state building in Mission Valley was closed out of “extreme caution” after it was reported that someone associated with the building had Legionnaires’ disease.

Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, said it was important that patients were treated early.

“If you treat too late, the body’s immune system is already active and just like with COVID, it may be too late for the drugs to take effect.”

Chin-Hong said patients usually have signs of phenomena such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.

He said the bacteria can be found in cooling towers, water supply systems, fountains, hot tubs, supermarkets and smoke machines.

Chin-Hong said the public should not panic about the legionnaires. It doesn’t spread from person to person and he stressed that most patients can be treated if caught early.

However, he said people with weakened immune systems, people over 50 and smokers were at an increased risk of contracting the disease.

Smith tries to stay strong for her children, spreading the word about the disease while cherishing the memory of her late husband.

“He just put a smile on everyone’s face, he was a big prankster, a big prankster and everyone loved him.”

A GoFundMe was set up to support Smith, who is now raising her children alone.

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