1 dead, 11 infected in Legionnaires' disease outbreak in California county

1 dead, 11 infected in Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in California county

Health officials are investigating a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Northern California.

Twelve Napa County residents have been diagnosed with a rare lung infection and have been hospitalized since July 11, according to Napa County Public Health. On Wednesday, health officials said one of those people had died and three remained in hospital.

As part of the investigation, the county was testing man-made water sources, including cooling towers and decorative fountains, for the presence of bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease.

Preliminary results found “high levels” of Legionella bacteria in a sample taken from the cooling tower at the Embassy Suites Napa Valley in Napa.

The cooling tower has been taken offline, “mitigating any ongoing risk to public health,” and the county health department said it continues to identify any other sources that contain unsafe amounts of bacteria.

“Our joint investigation team continues to work with Embassy Suites staff to address the source of exposure,” Napa County Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio said in a statement. “Finding Legionella in a single water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we should continue to investigate cooling towers and other water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source.”

Health officials said that none of the 12 patients diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were identified as having stayed at or visited the Embassy Suites.

The deadly Legion outbreak is linked to the contaminated cooling tower of the Napa Company Hotel in Napa, California, Aug. 4, 2022.

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A spokesperson for the Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley told ABC News that the hotel continues to “fully cooperate” with the county’s ongoing investigation.

“We are awaiting a full report of test results from the Ministry of Health, however, we remain keen on our commitment to providing a safe and hospitable environment for all,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “In line with this commitment and after learning of their concerns, we immediately contacted our counselor and water treatment provider to ensure we were following the guidelines set by the Ministry of Health and started treatment.”

Legionella bacteria grow in warm water and can become a health concern when it spreads in man-made water systems such as cooling towers, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and plumbing systems. People can get Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling tiny droplets of water that contain the bacteria.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing. It is not transmitted from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics when caught early.

People most at risk of getting sick from Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia, include those age 50 or older, smokers and those with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems.

Health officials said the person who died in the Napa County outbreak was over 50 and had risk factors for “serious illness.”

Photo: A deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' linked to the contaminated cooling tower of the Napa Company Hotel in Napa, California, Aug.  4, 2022.

The deadly Legion outbreak is linked to the contaminated cooling tower of the Napa Company Hotel in Napa, California, Aug. 4, 2022.

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“Although Legionnaires’ disease is a rare infection, this is a reminder that the bacteria that cause it are common in nature and can be found in human-made water systems,” Relucio said. “This means that it is very important for owners and managers of water systems that can produce aerosols to take steps to prevent bacteria from growing and spreading in water systems.”

Health departments reported nearly 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States in 2018, although the true number may be 1.8 to 2.7 times higher than reported, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in 10 cases is fatal.

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