A gated community in North Port, FL, has been infected with a potentially sizeable Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, according to multiple news reports. Three illnesses have been confirmed, and up to 25 people may have been infected.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (SCHD) is investigating the outbreak at the IslandWalk at the West Villages community. Officials at IslandWalk temporarily have shut down the pool and spa after being advised of the illnesses.

According to an email sent out by a spokesperson for the facility: “The pool and spa were closed within 30 minutes of being contacted, and residents were notified. The facilities will remain closed pending further testing. We are working with the Sarasota Department of Health to get this issue resolved. Our first priority is the safety of our residents.”

The outbreak was first diagnosed at IslandWalk by Dr. Ahmed Farooq, an infectious disease physician with Venice Regional Bayfront Health. Dr. Farooq contacted the health department after he discovered the first case, then told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he determined that IslandWalk’s hot tub was the common denominator after diagnosing the second case.

Reports vary on outbreak size

Farooq could not provide a definitive number of illnesses, but he said quite a few cases have been treated.

A report on keephealthcare.org stated an “IslandWalk resident who called the Herald-Tribune said as many as 25 people may have been affected.” Another report by WFLA-TV said, “residents say at least 11 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.”

A Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokesperson told the Herald-Tribune: “Three cases were diagnosed at the hospital last weekend.”

Pool and spa are likely sources

“The really important thing is identifying the source,” said Michael Drennon,  SCHD director of disease intervention. “We believe it may be the pool or spa area in the community that these individuals live in. We want to do some specialized testing of the water sources there.”

Said Tom Higginbotham, SCHD environmental health director: “We’re going to test the irrigation system [and] anything else that we think could be a potential source,”

The community’s irrigation system draws water out of untreated lakes. Legionella, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, is found naturally in such freshwater environments.

Test results are expected by mid-March.

IslandWalk at the West Villages
A Legionnaires’ outbreak has struck IslandWalk at the West Villages in North Port, FL.

IslandWalk at the West Villages

IslandWalk at the West Villages is an 830-acre, gated, lakefront community of luxury single-family homes, patio homes, and townhomes surrounded by lakes and preserves. The community’s features include a resort center, fitness center, movement studio, resort and lap pools, and sports courts.

North Port is located in southern Sarasota County.

Residents or visitors to the IslandWalk gated community who are exhibiting pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms (see symptoms below) should seek immediate medical attention from their primary health-care provider.

Legionella facts and figures

After Legionella grow and multiply in a community’s water system, the contaminated water spreads in droplets small enough to inhale. When the bacteria reach the lungs, they can cause people to become ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella become a health concern when they grow and spread in human-made environments, such as:

  • pools and hot tubs
  • showers and faucets
  • decorative fountains and water features
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • large plumbing systems, like those used in hotels, assisted living facilities, and gated communities
  • cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings).

Individuals at increased risk
Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People who meet any of the following criteria are at higher risk:

  • people 50 or older
  • current or former smokers
  • people with undisclosed illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney failure or liver failure
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with cancer.

Symptoms are numerous
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia (lung infection). Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms in the following forms:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.