Has Legionnaires' Disease Resurfaced?

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Three individuals have contracted Legionnaires’ disease and one has died after staying at the luxury Epic Hotel in downtown Miami. The man who died of Legionnaires’ disease had stayed at the hotel in September, while the other individuals were guests after that time. The Miami-Dade Health Department shut down the hotel over the weekend and relocated the guests to other accommodations.

The source of the outbreak is believed to be the hotel’s water system. The Miami Herald noted that the Epic had reportedly installed a water filtration system that was so powerful, it eliminated the city’s chlorine from the water supply, which then allowed bacteria to grow.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria, Legionella spp. The disease is contracted by breathing in mist from water that contains the bacteria. The mist may come from showers, air conditioning units in large buildings, steam baths, and hot tubs. Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, cough, headache, and muscle aches. The disease can be life-threatening, although most people recover with prompt antibiotic treatment.

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People most likely to be affected by the bacteria include those older than 65, smokers, people who have a lung disease, and anyone who has a compromised immune system. The death rate among otherwise healthy individuals is 10 to 15 percent, but it can rise considerably up to about 80 percent among people who have comcomitant conditions and depending on disease severity and promptness of treatment.

According to Paul H. Edelstein, author of Legionella: Molecular Mmicrobiology, the first known epidemic of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in Austin, Minnesota, in 1957, when 78 people developed the pneumonia between June and August. Nearly all of the infected individuals recovered, and the source of the epidemic was eventually traced to a cooling tower.

Although there have been other epidemics, perhaps the most famous one occurred in Philadelphia in 1976 at the Bellevue Stratford hotel. About 4,000 members of the Pennsylvania State American Legion met at the hotel July 21 to 24 for their annual meeting. It was not until the meeting was over, however, that it became apparent that physicians were treating an infection whose common thread was, for the most part, people who had been convention delegates. A total of 182 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed, with 29 deaths. The hotel was closed down permanently on November 18, 1976, and later reopened under a new name and after renovations.

In this most recent outbreak, officials from the Epic Hotel are working with health officials to resolve the problem. The Miami Herald reported that water samples collected from the Epic showed that the chlorine levels were lower than necessary to stop the growth of bacteria, such as those that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. According to the Herald, doctors say there is no need to panic or worry about Legionnaires’ disease because only three cases have surfaced in the last two months, which is a very small portion of the number of people who could have been exposed to the bacteria at the hotel.

SOURCES:
Edelstein, Paul H. Legionella: Molecular Microbiology
The Miami Herald, Dec. 12, 13, 14, 2009
South Florida Business Journal 12/14/09
USA Today Dec. 13, 2009

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