The Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) is investigating 12 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Anaheim area, including the death of one person, according to news reports. Nine of those sickened had visited Disneyland in September, before developing the serious respiratory illness, including one Disneyland employee.
The three individuals who took ill who had not visited the park were Orange County residents who lived or traveled in the Anaheim area. Ten of the 12 needed to be hospitalized; their ages ranged from 52 to 94 years old.
The individual who died had not visited Disneyland but had additional health problems that made them more susceptible to complications, officials said.
A common source for the illnesses have yet to be identified, but the resort voluntarily shut down two cooling towers in the theme park after elevated levels of Legionella bacteria were found in them after testing in October.
“We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” said Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a statement. “These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”
The towers are in a backstage area near the New Orleans Square Train Station, about 100 feet from areas accessible to guests.
The HCA informed Disney of the Legionnaires’ cases on Oct. 27. Hymel added that “there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities.”
A disease on the rise in U.S.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection and is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires’ in the United States continues to increase,” according to Laura Cooley, MD, MPH from the Respiratory Diseases Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Cooley said she believes the increase is due to an increase in the susceptibility of the population, with more and more people on immunosuppressive medications. In addition, there could be more Legionella in the environment, with warmer temperatures creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.
How do you catch Legionnaires’?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to a range of sources, such as:
- cooling towers in air conditioning systems
- decorative fountains
- hot tubs and whirlpools
- hot water tanks and heaters
- large plumbing systems
- showers and faucets
- swimming pools.