030219_TCT_Legionnaires1

A 3-D computer-generated image of Legionella bacteria. / CDC

The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Fulton County Board of Health are investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a downtown Atlanta hotel, where more than 50 individuals likely contracted the disease.

According to a July 29 news release from the state, the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel downtown has had 11 lab-confirmed cases and 55 probable cases of the disease related to the outbreak. But no deaths related to Legionnaires’ disease have been reported.

The news release stated the first cases were confirmed two weeks earlier, and since then epidemiologists from both the state and the county have reviewed hundreds of survey responses from guests who stayed or visited the hotel between June 12 and July 15, to help identify those who have the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia — lung inflammation usually triggered by infection. It is caused by a bacterium known as legionella. One cannot catch the disease from person-to-person contact, and most individuals get it by inhaling the bacteria. Older adults, smokers and individuals with diminished immune systems are particularly susceptible to the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, the disease normally develops within two to 10 days of exposure, and initial symptoms include headache, muscle pain, chills, a fever of 104 degrees or higher.

By the second or third day, other symptoms include a cough which may bring up mucus and/or blood, shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and/or confusion or other mental changes.

Probable cases are individuals who had sicknesses consistent with Legionnaires’ disease, including pneumonia diagnosed by a clinician or chest X-ray, but without laboratory confirmation. The number of probable cases can change based on more testing and lab results.

The survey was also used to differentiate between individuals who became sick and those who did not. According to the release, as more cases are identified, the data will be updated and analyzed.

The state and county have worked with the hotel owners on sampling, testing and remediation for the disease. The hotel voluntarily closed July 15 and remains closed. The first set of environmental samples were collected July 19, and more samples were collected July 29. Testing environmental samples takes up to 14 days, and results are pending.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of individuals with Legionnaires’ disease increased by nearly four times from 2000–14. About 6,100 cases of it were reported in the United States in 2016. In Georgia, 189 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in last year, with 172 in 2017.

For more information about Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease, visit dph.georgia.gov/legionellosis.

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