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 in West Virginia, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The Hancock County Health Department (HCHD) confirmed four cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the county after news broke of one illness connected to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Now, the search is on for the source of the Legionella bacteria that is sickening people.

The confirmation comes days after Mountaineer – located in New Cumberland – announced it was suspending live racing at its thoroughbred racetrack until Nov. 7 to “make some improvements.”

The Daily Racing Form (DRF), however, reported that the suspension was due to the diagnosis of at least one case of Legionnaires’ disease among track employees. That information was obtained by the DRF from “officials with knowledge of the situation.”

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” said Jackie Huff, HCHD health administrator. She also said there’s “no evidence” linking the outbreak to the track.

“We have not identified the source,” Huff said. “We have four cases in Hancock County, but I can’t say any of them are at Mountaineer.”

Federal privacy regulations prohibit the HCHD from discussing the cases or revealing the identities of those sickened, but the health department is interviewing the patients to determine commonalities, such as where they’ve been, where they live, and where they work.

Huff confirmed that Mountaineer is one of several locations being investigated, but did not identify any others.

Jana Tetrault, executive director of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (MPHBPA), said the association hadn’t received any information other than an Oct. 27 statement announcing a “safety review” of the clubhouse and grandstand areas from Mountaineer’s general manager.

“As far as the horsemen are concerned, we’re training on the track,” Tetrault said. “Normal training hours are in effect.”

Mountaineer, whose race meet is scheduled to end Nov. 28, will lose eight racing days because of the suspension, but the MPHBPA is hoping those days will be rescheduled, which would require the approval of the West Virginia Racing Commission.

“Everyone’s concerned about the safety of the people involved,” Tetrault said.

Visited or work at Mountaineer and feeling ill?
If you are an employee at Mountaineer Park, visited the backside, clubhouse, grandstand, or jockeys’ area and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your health-care provider out of an abundance of caution.

Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms can even resemble those of the flu, which is why it often goes under-reported. Symptoms include:

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

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — may produce signs and symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches and muscle pains. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.

Legionnaires info

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States on a yearly basis. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Ten percent of people who become infected with Legionnaires will die from the infection.

Legionella, which is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires, 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.

Where do Legionella live?
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

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

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).