On August 29, 2012, the Chicago Department of Public Health issued a new
press release on the
Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak from the JW Marriott Hotel, 151 W. Adams St., in downtown Chicago.
According to the update, in the 15 days between August 14, 2012, and the
August 29th press release, the CDPH has received eight more reports of
confirmed cases of people who contracted Legionnaire’s Disease after
they visited the Marriott hotel. Two people have died. The Department
has concluded that this “suggest[s] that the hotel is the common
Finding victims of Leginnaire’s Disease can be challenging because
the disease can take up to two weeks to develop, and because it is often
– as here – a “traveler’s disease.” A “traveler’s
disease” is one that affects travelers, who then scatter from the
central place where the outbreak occurred as they head back to their homes.
Here, the victims contracted the disease at the hotel, but then returned
to their homes all over the United States. In a situation where the victims
scatter, it can be harder for officials to trace the outbreak to its original
source, and so the fact that the source has been located here is very
The Health Department has set up a hotline for people who may have been
exposed to the disease, and its says that in one week it has gotten “100
calls from people both reporting symptoms similar to Legionnaires’
disease and also looking for general information.” The hotline number
is (312) 746-4835, and the Department says the number is staffed Monday-Friday
from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, CDT.
Legionnaire’s Disease is caused when people breathe in the legionella
bacteria. The bacteria can become airborne in water droplets, which might
come from a swimming pool, spa, air conditioning system or fountain. Generally
legionella does not develop where a company works to prevent bacteria
from breeding by properly cleaning its pool, hot tub, etc., use proper
chemicals such as chlorine, and keeping the water at the correct temperature.
The CDPH has not stated how the bacteria became airborne at the JW Marriott
in Chicago, but presumably they are testing all of those sorts of locations
to determine how the outbreak occurred. The Department did say, rather
vaguely, that the hotel had “followed public health recommendations
to reduce the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria in its environment.”
The CDPH did say that it believes the outbreak has stopped, meaning that
while new cases may be reported, they will come from people who stayed
at the hotel during the affected period, as opposed to cases being contracted
at this time.
Legionnaire’s Disease mimics the flu in its early stages. Victims
may have headaches, fever and chills, and then a cough, chest pain and
shortness of breath as the pneumonia illness develops.
The Health Department mentioned the milder form of the disease, which is
called Pontiac Fever, but did not state whether anyone has reported Pontiac
Fever. Pontiac Fever is a milder form of Legionnaire’s Disease and
does not progress to full-blown pneumonia. Still, it is a very severe
illness and in a Legionnaire’s Disease/Pontiac Fever outbreak lawsuit
I handled, one of my Pontiac Fever clients told me it was “like
the worst flu you ever had in your life.”
Chicago has an
information sheet on Legionnaire’s Disease on its website.