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According to CBS Chicago, the Chicago Department of Public Health is announcing
that three guests who stayed at theChicago JW Marriott have contracted Legionnaire’s Disease. The legionella bacteria is carried in air droplets, and breathing it
can be deadly, particularly for people with compromised immune systems
or lung problems.

According to the CDPH’s Dr. Kathy Ritger, a group had been staying
at the hotel, and: “They noticed among their employees, a number
of people had a fever, cough, and some had developed pneumonia.”
Three were ultimately diagnosed with
Legionnaire’s disease, which is a very dangerous type of pneumonia.

Almost certainly the others had Pontiac Fever, which is a milder form of
Legionnaire’s disease. People suffering from Pontiac Fever have
flu-like symptoms, coupled with breathing difficulties. Because Pontiac
Fever closely mirrors regularly flu, most cases go undiagnosed.

The Chicago Department of Public Health did not identify the group that
reported the outbreak, but kudos to the group for recognizing the issue,
and reporting it to health officials. Most outbreaks of Legionnaire’s
Disease and Pontiac Fever go undiagnosed because no one spots the trend.
Because the group was observant and reported what had happened, officials
may be able to identify other victims and recommend ways to treat them
more effectively, at least until the source of the legionella bacteria
had been definitively identified.

According to CBS Chicago, the JW Marriott has posted a sign in hits lobby
and warned guests checking in that the hotel could be contaminated. The
Marriott claimed it had offered to make other arrangements for guests,
but that no guests had asked that they be placed at a different hotel.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that a guest fully warned about
the situation would not want to stay at a different hotel.

According to the report, the CDPH and the Marriott are planning to contact
guests who stayed at the hotel between July 16 and August 15, 2012.

The hotel drained its swimming pool and whirlpool. The bacteria can breed
in pools and whirlpools that are not properly cleaned and treated with
chemicals that kill the bacteria. Many outbreaks are associated with pools,
and even more particularly with whirlpools, because the legionella bacteria
can become airborne in the little drops of water vapor coming from the
water. The jets from a whirlpool or spa can create a significant amount
of aerosol spray, and if the water has not been properly treated and kept
at the recommended temperature, then it may contain harmful bacteria.

The hotel manager said that the health officials had taken water samples
and took swabs from several areas around the hotel. Officials are probably
looking at the air conditioning system, too, because those systems often
throw off water droplets, and unclear air conditioning systems can be
contaminated with bacteria.

The JW Marriott is located at 151 W. Adams St. in downtown Chicago.

From my experience with Legionnaire’s Disease lawsuits, I believe
it is very likely that health officials will find more victims as they
contact guests who stayed at the hotel. The good, and unusual, news, is
that the outbreak has been identified.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.