JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri agency has asked the state for more funding to combat Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia that has sickened more than 800 people in the state over the last five years.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said the state's response to the disease has grown and that current state laboratory staff are unable to complete all duties, according to documents submitted to state budget officials.

As of July, 812 people in the state had contracted Legionnaires' since 2014 and 44 had died, according to the health department.

Missouri officials requested funding for a lab scientist and want the state to hire two environmental public health specialists and one epidemiology specialist, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They would handle fieldwork duties and an influx of Legionella testing samples.

The budget line would cost $320,057, which includes travel, training and other expenses, the department said. 

The DHSS's request is based partly from new federal guidelines that requires individuals diagnosed with Legionnaires' be questioned about visits to facilities and public venues 14 days prior to their illness, instead of the current 10-day time frame.

The new rule "will substantially grow the staff time that will be dedicated to assessment and investigation," the DHSS said, adding that existing staff had collected 500 Legionella samples and conducted 60 field inspections of implicated facilities this year.

"However, DHSS has no dedicated staff to conduct the environmental health activities tied to Legionnaires' Disease cases," the department noted. "As the rigor and intensity associated with Legionella response has grown, existing staff have absorbed more duties."

New testing capabilities introduced in June for potable and non-potable water, and other environmental samples, have led to a surge in testing samples, the department said.

"Subsequent to making this testing capability available, the demand for testing has increased well beyond projections," the budget request said. The State Public Health Laboratory "is unable to provide the necessary Legionella testing to support significant public health investigations in Missouri on an ongoing basis."