The J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA in Lawrenceville, GA, temporarily closed its pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and shower areas last week because of the potential for Legionella bacteria infection, according to multiple news outlets. All other areas of the suburban Atlanta facility remained open to the public.

Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease or Legionellosis, a respiratory illness that can result in death.

The Gwinnett County Health Department alerted the YMCA about multiple cases of Legionella involving people who had used the facilities, which prompted the closures. It’s unknown how many visitors reported health issues.

“Based on information provided by the health department, we immediately closed the potential areas of concern,” the YMCA wrote in a letter to members. “Although there are currently no environmental samples showing this bacteria is present in our facility, we are taking every precaution and have hired an outside company who specializes in remediation for public facilities.”

Remediation is performed to reverse or stop environmental damage. Remediation consists of cleaning, heat treating, and hyper-chlorinating the water tanks and water systems, and can include the addition of filters to showers, faucets, and hoses.

Members, recent visitors or employees of the club who may be exhibiting symptoms of Legionellosis should immediately contact their physicians for care. They should also call the Gwinnett County Health Department at 770-339-4260 and report their symptoms to the epidemiologist.

Legionnaires' disease bacteria
Legionella bacteria

What are the symptoms? 

Legionnaires’ disease looks like other forms of pneumonia or even the flu, which is why so many cases go unreported every year. Early symptoms can include the following:

  • chills
  • fever (can be 104 degrees or higher)
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches.

After the first few days, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • chest pain when breathing, called pleuritic chest pain (due to inflamed lungs)
  • confusion and agitation
  • a cough, which may bring up mucus and blood
  • diarrhea (about one-third of all cases result in gastrointestinal problems)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath.

The incubation period – the amount of time between contracting the bacteria and developing symptoms – is usually 2 to 10 days and can be as much as 16 days.

Are you at risk of contracting Legionnaires’? 

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

  • people 50 years old or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • individuals following specific drug protocols (for example, corticosteroids).