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Legionnaires' disease strikes a popular Las Vegas hotel

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
Las Vegas Hotel

Legionnaires' disease has broken out in Las Vegas, and no one is quite sure where it came from. Nevada health authorities have reported the outbreak in the posh 4,000-room Aria Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Guests were exposed between June 21 to July 4 and six have been treated for the disease. Stephanie Bethel of the Southern Nevada Health District told the Associated Press that this sometimes deadly form of pneumonia had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that the six guests had recovered.

Hotel management said they had no idea that the pathogen took up residence in the hotel until they were contacted by health authorities and the CDC. Testing by the agency showed that the legionella bacteria was indeed present in several of the guest rooms.

This is not the first time Legionnaire’s disease has been found concentrated in places of leisure, rest and recreation. As recently as last February, 200 partygoers at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Calif., came down with flulike chills and high fevers. Four of the attendees went on to develop a mild form of the disease, Pontiac fever. Health authorities suspect the mansion's whirlpool had been to blame for the spread of the bacteria.

Legionella loves warm, wet environments – precisely the kind vacationers crave. Hot tubs, swimming pools, and lakefronts are conducive to harboring legionella. When you add large amounts of people clustering in those small, humid places, a legionella outbreak can result. Legionella is transmitted through the air via tiny air droplets which we breathe in. It cannot be contracted by drinking infected water – rather, the mode of transmission is possible only through the respiratory system. This is why air-conditioning systems and showers are also implicated in the transmission of the disease.

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Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 Americans are hospitalized with legionella, according to the CDC. It tends to erupt during the summer and early fall months, and its fatality rate ranges from 5 to 30 percent. In addition to the sources mentioned, it can also thrive in cooling towers, hot water tanks and large plumbing systems.

Individuals with weakened immune systems and lung disease, those who smoke, and the elderly are more susceptible to the bacteria.

Patients with Legionnaires' disease usually have fever, chills, and a cough, which may be dry or wet. Some patients also have muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, loss of coordination, and occasionally diarrhea and vomiting. Chest X-rays reveal pneumonia.

Persons with Pontiac fever experience fever and muscle aches without pneumonia. They generally recover in 2 to 5 days without treatment

The disease got its name in 1976 after an outbreak that sickened 221, killing 34, at a statewide American Legion convention at the upscale Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. It was later determined the bacteria had spread through the air-conditioning system.

The negative publicity surrounding the disease forced the hotel to close that same year.