Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires in one of these Hot Springs outbreaks, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is dealing with a pair of unrelated Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks: one at a senior residence, the other at a historic bathhouse that resulted in the death of a victim.

The ADH informed tenants of a Hot Springs apartment complex that two residents contracted Legionnaires’ disease, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reported.

Garland Towers & Garden Apartments residents were notified by health officials after the second illness was confirmed. Health department protocols call for public notification after two or more cases are reported at the same address in a three-month period.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, ADH medical director for immunizations, confirmed the cases were reported to the agency by medical professionals who treated the tenants.

The Garland Towers & Garden Apartments at 126 Oriole Street is a low-income housing apartment for seniors subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Hot Springs, which is also known as Spa City, is a resort city located at the eastern edge of the Ouachita Mountains. It is set among several natural hot springs, thus the name.

Hot Springs outbreaks: positive test

A public records request by the Sentinel-Record uncovered preliminary test results last month that showed the presence of Legionella bacteria DNA in some of the samples collected. Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory illness that is contracted when people inhale microscopic, aerosolized water droplets (vapor or mist) contaminated with Legionella.

Dillaha said further testing is needed to confirm if the bacteria are viable – that is, capable of being the cause of the illnesses.

“It doesn’t tell us if those bacteria are dead or alive,” she told the Sentinel-Record, explaining that Legionella is regularly found in water and mostly harmless if deprived of the proper living conditions. “We don’t know if it’s viable or not. We’re interested to see if it’s live bacteria. That takes time. They have to be cultured on a special medium with a petri dish with special food for them to grow.”

Hot Springs outbreaks: showers banned

Last month, building owners on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park were advised to disallow the use of showers connected to thermal water sources after Legionella were detected at Quapaw Baths & Spa. The decision was made after three cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed in out-of-town visitors, one of whom died.

The recommendation of the National Park Service Office of Public Health was made in coordination with the ADH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hot Springs National Park includes 47 hot springs and eight historic bathhouses along Central Avenue, including Quapaw at 413 Central Avenue on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain.

The Spa City bathhouse shuttered its shower area and initiated chlorination of its baths after Legionella was indicated in early October. An initial test in August also returned a positive result, but follow-up testing proved that false.

Quapaw Baths & Spa is less than 1.5 miles from Garland Towers & Garden Apartments.

Hot Springs outbreaks: water temps to blame

Dillaha said the contaminated water at Quapaw came from a hot spring that was cooled before going to the showers and baths. Water that comes directly from the hot spring is too hot for bacteria to survive, she said.

“The water supplies that are at risk … are largely thermal waters that have been cooled, or altered in some way,” ADH chief medical officer Dr. Gary Wheeler said. “If the temperature falls low enough, there’s a risk that the Legionella bacteria can survive, so that can be picked up in a number of ways.”

Said Dillaha: “Any building that has a complex water system – like a hotel or a hospital or a cruise ship – is vulnerable to having this organism grow because the waters are warm enough for it to grow but not hot enough to kill it.”

Hot Springs outbreaks: symptoms

Officials said the park’s facilities and businesses remain open and continue to offer guest services, but anyone who tests positive for legionellosis should inform the ADH as soon as possible at 501-537-8969.

(Legionellosis is the collective term for the two diseases caused by Legionella: Legionnaires’ disease, which is also called Legionella pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a less-severe illness that does not affect the lungs.)

If you live at or have visited the Garland Towers & Garden Apartments or you visited the Quapaw Baths & Spa within the past two months and you are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, you should seek care from your health-care provider.

The onset of symptoms, which usually occurs two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella, generally involves:

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

By the second or third day, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus or blood
  • shortness of breath, or dyspnea
  • chest pains, or pleurisy or pleuritis
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.
Hot Springs outbreaks: oversight lacking

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to provide rigorous oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to Legionella. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of apartments, hotels, and other non-medical buildings.

“There’s not a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium or a large building,” said attorney Elliot Olsen, who has spearheaded Legionnaires lawsuits for more than 20 years. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”