A fourth case of Legionnaires’ disease since October 2016 has prompted the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District to issue a control order against the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Waco North in Lacy Lakeview, TX, according to numerous news reports.

The latest illness spurred the health district to more fully investigate the facility. “What we need to determine is: Is this an issue with a pool or spa; is it an issue to do with the A/C, or is it potable water and has it spread?” said Kelly Craine, Public Health Information Specialist at Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. “Is it really isolated in one area, or are we seeing something that’s really large where it covers a large area? We don’t know that yet, and that is why an independent consultant is so important.”

Two hotel guests were sickened with Legionnaires in October 2016, and a third took ill in May. That triggered hotel officials to temporarily shut down the hotel pool.

Tests after the May incident, however, returned negative findings for Legionella bacteria. The second round of testing has been completed and results are expected back before the end of the month.

In cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services, the health district is requiring the Fairfield Inn to implement the following three actions immediately in order to comply with the control order:

  • Hire a qualified consultant to assist with the development and implementation of a water maintenance plan
  • Maintain water temperature at 140 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Notify all guest of the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.

A hotel representative said the hotel would cooperate, and that “safety was the priority.”

The hotel is located at 4257 N. Interstate 35 in a suburb of Waco.

CDC: About 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ annually

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States yearly. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria are found primarily in human-made environments, such as cooling towers, air-conditioning systems, hot tubs, and spas, to name a few.

Warm, stagnant water provides ideal conditions for growth, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At temperatures between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the organism can multiply. Temperatures of 90 degrees to 105 degrees are ideal for growth.

Complications of Legionnaires’ disease

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.