Earlier I reported on a Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak being reported
by guests who had stayed at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Chicago.
The hotel announced that health officials had taken water samples and
swabbed areas around the hotel to try to locate the source of the bacteria.
Meanwhile, the Marriott announced that it had drained its pool and spa,
and I mentioned that in fact many outbreaks are the result of the aerosol
droplets sprayed out by a whirlpool.
In fact, on August 31, the hotel announced that it had removed a fountain
located in its lobby, and had closed parts of its spa facility because
health authorities had determined they were the likely source of the legionella
bacteria causing the current
Marriott Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak. The testing was performed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The size of the Marriott outbreak has grown significantly since I last
reported on it. Officials are confirming that ten people have contracted
Legionnaire’s Disease, and three of them have died as a result of
the illness. These victims all stayed at the hotel between July 16 and
Testing showed that the victims had the same species of legionella as officials
found in water at the hotel. In fact, officials found that same legionella
bacteria species in the fountain, the women’s locker room, the men’s
locker room, the swimming pool and the whirlpool located in the hotel’s spa.
The fact that the legionella was so widespread is a scathing indictment
of the hotel’s cleaning practices. If a pool, spa, or fountain has
been cleaned properly and maintained at the right temperature, then legionella
(and other) bacteria will not breed. When hotels or cruise ships or other
facilities do not consistently maintain the pools, clean them, use the
appropriate amounts of chlorine or other chemicals, and keep them at the
right temperature, then legionella can breed. The bacteria becomes airborne
through water droplets and people breathe in the bacteria. People who
breathe the airborne legionella bacteria can become extremely ill. While
some victims will get “only” Pontiac Fever and experience
flu-like symptoms, others will contract full-blown Legionnaire’s
Disease, which is a potentially deadly form of pneumonia.
As a lawyer handling Legionnaire’s Disease cases, it has been my
experience that hotels take abysmally poor care of their pools and spas.
I handled another hotel outbreak case several years ago, and found that
essentially the hotel saw the pool and whirlpool as something it had to
have in order to compete with other hotels, but then devoted almost no
attention to cleaning and maintaining the pool and hot tub.
Dr. Kathy Ritger of the Chicago Department of Public Health stated that
the Department believes “there is no ongoing public health risk
at this time.”
Authorities are urging anyone who stayed at the hotel between July 16 and
August 15 to be alert for symptoms like headache, fever, chills, cough,
chest pain and shortness of breath. Legionnaire’s Disease takes
several days to two weeks to develop, and the first symptoms look like
ordinary flu symptoms, or perhaps like an extraordinarily bad cold. According to the
CDC’s fact sheet on Legionnaire’s disease, up to 30% of the people who contract Legionnaire’s Disease will
die, many can be saved if doctors recognize the disease early on.