Eleven others who stayed at the Sheraton Atlanta have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, while another 61 probable cases have been identified, according to Nancy Nydam, director of communications at Georgia Department of Public Health.
“Probable cases” are people who have symptoms of the disease but have not yet had a laboratory test to confirm the disease — a serious form of noncontagious pneumonia.
“Based on epidemiological evidence we have an outbreak among people who stayed at the (Sheraton Atlanta) during the same time period,” said Nydam. Guests who complained of lung problems and were later diagnosed with Legionnaires’ had attended a convention at the Atlanta hotel in early July.
Though the bacterium causing Legionnaires’ has not yet been confirmed at the hotel, Sheraton Atlanta voluntarily shuttered its doors and hired outside experts to conduct testing, Nydam said.
“Sheraton Atlanta remains closed until at least August 11,” Ken Peduzzi, the hotel’s general manager, said in a statement Tuesday. Public health officials and environmental experts are working with the hotel to determine if it is the source of the outbreak, he said.
Thousands infected each year
About one in 10 people who get sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die, a recent government report found.
The disease infects an estimated 10,000 to 18,000 people in the United States each year, with some cases not reported to health authorities. The number of people with Legionnaires’ disease grew by nearly four times from 2000 to 2014, the CDC stated. People can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally take water into their lungs containing the bacteria. It can be treated with antibiotics, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, growing best in warm water, and can be found in shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains or plumbing systems in large buildings, according to Georgia Department of Health.
“Testing of the property happened last week, and the hotel has voluntarily moved ahead with precautionary remedial activities while awaiting results,” Peduzzi said.
Symptoms of the disease
Legionnaires’ begins with a patient feeling tired and weak, according to the educational organization Legionella.org. Other common symptoms include coughing, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, chest pain and shortness of breath. The incubation period — the time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is infected with the bacteria causing the disease — is from 2 to 10 days.
Described as a “severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia,” Legionnaires’ can lead to treatment in an intensive care unit, according to Legionella.org. Some symptoms may be long-term: One study showed that three quarters of survivors continued to feel tired, 66% had neurologic symptoms and 63% had neuromuscular symptoms months after their diagnosis.
Scientists dubbed the illness “Legionnaires’ disease” following an outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976, largely among people attending a state convention of the American Legion.
In Georgia, 189 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 2018, and 172 cases in 2017.