Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires at The Osthoff Resort, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Four people contracted Legionnaires’ disease after staying at The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) said.

The DHS said the first case was reported in March and the other three in August. No information was released on the four victims.

A memo from Osthoff general manager Lola Roeh informed resort owners of the illnesses in early September, shortly after it was learned that two of 72 locations at the resort – a men’s restroom near an indoor pool and a cooling tower – tested positive for elevated levels of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Water samples were collected by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; the Division of Public Health in the DHS; and the Sheboygan County Health and Human Services Department.

Roeh said the resort disinfected both areas within two hours of learning of the positive tests. Results of the latest testing, received last week, were negative for Legionella.

“The Osthoff has been in full cooperation with health authorities in their investigation,” Roeh wrote in an email to the Sheboygan Press. “While The Osthoff has not been determined as the source, there has been rigorous testing at The Osthoff as a part of the systematic process of this type of investigation.”

The Sheboygan County Health Department notified the resort of the cases, prompting the initial testing.

According to Anna Kocharian, an epidemiologist with the Bureau of Communicable Disease of the DHS, the five-year average of confirmed Legionnaires cases in Wisconsin is 135, and the DHS conducts about five Legionella public health investigations every year.

Who is most at risk?
“Most healthy people who are exposed to Legionella do not get Legionnaires’ disease (approximately less than 5 percent of people exposed become sick),” Kocharian informed the Sheboygan Press in an email. “… people with increased risk of developing illness are aged 50 years or older, are current or past smokers, have chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system.”

Others most susceptible to contracting Legionnaires’ disease after inhaling Legionella include:

  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).

Kocharian recommends that anyone at an increased risk of Legionnaire’s disease contact their health-care provider as soon as they start to experience symptoms.

What are the symptoms?
If you have stayed or work at or travel in the vicinity of The Osthoff Resort and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your health-care provider out of an abundance of caution. Those symptoms include:

  • chills
  • fever (potentially 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.

More on Legionnaires

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. It is treatable with antibiotics, although if it is not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart. It also can lead to life-threatening complications, including respiratory failure, septic shock, and acute kidney failure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

About one in 10 people who get sick from Legionnaires will die.

(Note: There is a mild form of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever that produces similar symptoms, including fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs.)

Where do the bacteria live?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually 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 numerous sources, such as:

  • water systems, such as those used in apartment complexes, hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large plumbing systems
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.

People also can contract Legionnaires’ disease by the aspiration of contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs. It’s also possible to contract Legionnaires’ disease from home plumbing systems, although the vast majority of outbreaks have occurred in large buildings because complex systems allow the bacteria to grow and spread more easily.