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 Mountaineer Casino, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a West Virginia race track last fall was traced to a poorly maintained hot tub in the jockeys’ locker room, according to a report from health investigators.

The disease was spread via the building’s ventilation system and a crack in the floor, illustrating just how dangerous and easily Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’ disease – is spread.

The final case count at Mountaineer Casino, Race Track & Resort in New Cumberland was 17. There were 10 confirmed or suspected cases of Legionnaires’ disease, and seven suspected cases of Pontiac fever, the less severe form of legionellosis – the collective term for diseases caused by Legionella.

The track was closed for a month – from Oct. 27 until Nov. 25 – after four employees were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

The disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection caused by Legionella, which are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor.

The investigation uncovered that many of the people sickened did not have direct exposure to the hot tub but breathed in the bacteria that “escaped through various pathways,” according to Jared Rispens, an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) Division of Environmental Health Science and Practice.

Ten confirmed or suspected patients had exposure to the hot tub or an adjacent hallway. The rest were exposed via a second-floor office suite, located directly above the hot tub area, which did not have an exhaust system.

According to Rispens, fog machines were employed to visualize airflow in the facility and discovered various pathways that mist could have escaped the hot tub to other areas of the building, including through the ventilation system and a crack in the floor.

“These factors could have created an environment where aerosol containing Legionella from the hot tub was introduced to higher floors via the thermal stack effect and/or passive ventilation and recirculated to occupied areas,” Rispens and colleagues wrote in their report.

Oversight lacking
Hospitals and nursing homes are required to bolster control of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella bacteria. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of apartments, hotels and other non-medical buildings, such as at Mountaineer Casino, Race Track & Resort.

“There’s not a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium or a large building,” said Elliot Olsen, who has filed Legionnaires lawsuits on behalf of patients and their families for more than two decades. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”

Legionnaires primer

According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (scientific name: Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States every year. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:

  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • whirlpools and hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • swimming pools
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • decorative fountains
  • water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • large plumbing systems
  • air-conditioning system cooling towers.

Warm, stagnant water provides the right conditions for growth, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The organism can multiply at temperatures between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and temps of 90 degrees to 105 degrees are optimal for that to occur.

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

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can occur; they include:

  • respiratory failure: caused by changes to the lung tissue, or oxygen loss in arteries supplying the lungs.
  • septic shock: this can occur when Legionella produce toxins that enter the bloodstream and cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to the loss of adequate blood supply to the organs.
  • kidney failure: those same Legionella toxins can damage the kidneys’ ability to eliminate waste from the blood, resulting in kidney failure.
  • endocarditis: an infection of the inner lining of the heart that can affect the strength of the heart to maintain adequate blood flow through the body.
  • pericarditis: swelling of the pericardium, which is the primary membrane around the heart. This can also affect the ability of the heart to circulate blood throughout the body.

Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, other signs and symptoms develop, including:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus and sometimes blood
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain (pleurisy)
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

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