Elliot Olsen is one of the few lawyers in the country who can call himself a “Legionnaires lawyer.” If you or a family member were sickened after attending the Mountain State Fair, you might have reason to file a Legionnaires lawsuit. Please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

North Carolina health officials confirmed a fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the western part of the state after nine people were diagnosed with the serious respiratory illness – and one of them died – in the past week.

Officials have identified the Mountain State Fair as the probable source for the outbreak, which has sickened residents of Buncombe, Haywood, and Henderson counties. The one commonality between those infected is that they all attended the fair, which is held at the WNC Ag Center in Fletcher.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), Buncombe Health and Human Services (HHS) and Henderson County Health Departments are investigating the outbreak. No additional information was released on those infected.

Mountain State Fair: 170,000-plus attendees

More than 170,000 people attended the 10-day event, which ran from Sept. 6-15. Given the size of the event, health officials are concerned additional cases will be reported.

“We don’t yet know whether people might have been exposed to Legionella bacteria at the NC Mountain State Fair,” said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist. “As a precaution, we are recommending that anyone who went to the fair and has symptoms of pneumonia, like cough, fever or shortness of breath, see a doctor right away and talk with them about Legionnaires’ disease.”

Mountain State Fair: numerous symptoms

Along with cough, fever, or shortness of breath (dyspnea), other symptoms to be concerned about include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • chest pains (called pleurisy or pleuritis)
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

If you attended the Mountain State Fair and are exhibiting any of the above symptoms, seek care from your health-care provider immediately. Symptoms usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious – that is, it cannot be passed from person to person. The condition is treatable with antibiotics, but it must be diagnosed early enough. If that does not occur, it can lead to severe complications.

Mountain State Fair: focus on water

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia (lung disease) that is also called legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia. It can be contracted by breathing in small droplets of water (mist or vapor) containing Legionella bacteria.

“Features, exhibits, and rides that incorporated some type of water exposure that created droplets which came in contact with visitors will be our focus,” Steven Smith, Henderson County’s director of health, wrote in an email to the Henderson County Board of Health. “Limiting any future exposures for individuals is an important objective right now.”

Even a water-coiled cooling fan provided by the Skyland Fire Department is being considered a possible culprit. The fan was used as a mister to help cool fairgoers.

Skyland fire chief Ryan Cole said he and his staff are more than willing to turn over the fan for testing, although he said he expects the fan to be ruled out as a source.

“We had many of our staff near the station during the time it ran, and none of them have been sick or shown any symptoms,” Cole told WLOS-TV news. “The health department said they’re looking for an environmental specialist to test the fan and that they would be back in touch.”

Mountain State Fair: high-risk groups

The reason the fire department staff wasn’t sickened or exhibiting symptoms could be that staff members don’t meet the criteria for infection. People 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have a chronic lung condition – are at a much higher risk.

Other people more susceptible to infection include:

  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with suppressed immune systems.

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is almost always necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death – and about 10 percent of those infected will die from the infection.

Mountain State Fair: call for more info

For more information or to report possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease, the public is asked to call the Division of Public Health at (919) 733-3419 or contact your local health department:

  • In Buncombe County, call (828) 250-5109.
  • In Haywood County, call (828) 452-6675.
  • In Henderson County, call (828) 694-6019.

In North Carolina, there were 83 cases of legionellosis reported through July of this year. In 2018, 175 cases were recorded, and between 2014 and 2018, there was an average of 198 cases per year, according to the NCDHHS communicable disease reports.