- On Tuesday, officials in Atlanta, Georgia, confirmed a woman died from Legionnaires’ disease after staying at the Sheraton Atlanta hotel.
- Legionnaires’ disease is an extreme form of pneumonia or lung disease that comes from the Legionella bacteria.
- Legionella bacteria grows and spreads in fresh water and can get into sink faucets, shower heads, and hot tubs.
- Normally healthy people typically don’t develop Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to the bacteria, but people over 50 and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to becoming ill.
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On Tuesday, officials in Atlanta, Georgia, confirmed a woman died from Legionnaires’ disease after staying at the Sheraton Atlanta hotel, CNN reported.
According to Nancy Nydam, director of communications at Georgia Department of Public Health, 11 others were also diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, an extreme form of pneumonia or lung disease that comes from the Legionella bacteria, after staying at the same hotel. Sixty-one potential cases have been identified too, but have yet to be confirmed in a lab.
Now, the Sheraton Atlanta is closed until at least August 11. “Testing of the property happened last week, and the hotel has voluntarily moved ahead with precautionary remedial activities while awaiting results,” Ken Peduzzi, the hotel’s general manager, said in a statement.
Legionnaires’ disease comes from the Legionella bacteria, which grows in warm fresh water like lakes and streams and then spreads to man-made water systems like sink faucets, shower heads, hot tubs, and cooling towers, according to the CDC.
“Usually outbreaks happen where there is a communal water source, like at hotels,” Dr. Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease specialist, told INSIDER.
When water contaminated with Legionella bacteria evaporates, people breathe it in and it can escalate to Legionnaires’ disease.
Most people won’t get sick with Legionnaires’ after being exposed to the bacteria
According to the CDC, most people who come into contact with the legionella bacteria don’t get sick with Legionnaires’ disease, but there are certain factors that may make an individual more susceptible to the illness.
If a person is over 50 years old, is a current or former smoker, or has a weakened immune system from diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, or certain medications, they have an increased risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease. Additionally, people with chronic lung problems including emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a heightened risk. The woman who died from the recent outbreak had coronary heart disease, according to a report.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ include a cough, shortness of breath, a fever, headaches, and muscle aches, and they usually develop between two and 10 days after a person is exposed to the legionella bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If a person does get the disease, they will likely need to go to the hospital to get antibiotics to kill the legionella bacteria in their bodies. The CDC estimates 1 in 10 people who get Legionnaires’ disease will die from complications of the illness., and even more (1 in 4) die if it occurs in a health care facility.
Building managers play an important role in stopping the spread of dangerous bacteria
The main reasons Legionella bacteria spread is because water sources aren’t properly disinfected and doing so can be difficult.
Hot tubs, for example, are usually set at a temperature too hot for chlorine to effectively disinfect the body of water. For this reason, hot-tub chemicals should be checked and changed regularly, according to the CDC.
Additionally, sink faucets, shower heads, and the water tanks that power these sources can act as the perfect breeding ground for Legionella bacteria. “In a small space where water doesn’t flow that great, Legionella can replicate and grow to very large numbers and when human beings inhale those sources, infection can happen,” Dr. Kesh said.
Building managers therefore play an important role in ensuring Legionella bacteria doesn’t grow and spread to tenants, since there are no vaccines to protect against the bacteria.
Although a person dying from a bacterial disease like Legionnaires’ can cause public alarm, Dr. Kesh said it’s a very treatable infection that’s relatively rare. She added that an uptick in cases doesn’t mean Legionella bacteria is more pervasive, but that people are likely becoming more health-literate and going to doctors as soon as they notice symptoms, causing more cases to be reported overall.
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