Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member were sickened in this East Texas fair outbreak, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The search continues for the source of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in East Texas that has claimed the life of one victim who was sickened with the deadly respiratory illness.

The outbreak’s ground zero has been determined to be the East Texas State Fair, which was held Sept. 20-29 in Tyler. All 12 people who took ill – seven were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, and five had symptoms consistent with the disease – all attended the fair.

Ruben Gutierrez of Flint passed away from complications of the illness. Gutierrez, 69, volunteered at the Smith County Democratic Party’s information booth in the Harvey Convention Center on the fairgrounds. He staffed the booth each day of the fair.

The information booth was stationed near a hot tub display in the Harvey Convention Center, and also positioned under an air conditioning vent. Both are possible breeding grounds for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

East Texas fair outbreak: hot tubs again?

If the Legionella source is determined to be a hot tub, it would make the East Texas event the second state fair in three months to fall prey to a contaminated hot tub.

At September’s Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina, a hot tub display was the source of a legionellosis outbreak that killed four people and infected 142 – 134 with Legionnaires and eight with Pontiac fever.

(Note: Legionellosis is the collective term for the two diseases caused by Legionella bacteria – Legionnaires’ disease and its much weaker sibling, Pontiac fever, which does not affect the lungs.)

East Texas fair outbreak: exhaustive testing

The Harvey Convention Center had been ruled out as a possible source after initial testing, but the ventilation system has been re-tested.

“We don’t want to leave anything out (as a source to be tested) and are doing our due diligence,” Terrance Ates, Northeast Texas Public Health (NET Health) spokesperson told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “We are testing every potential exposure site. All buildings on the fairgrounds and any other possible water sources, including those possibly generated by food and display vendors.”

The collection of environmental samples has been completed, Ates said, but there is no timetable as to when results will be released.

East Texas fair outbreak: in and out of hospital

NET Health CEO George Roberts confirmed that Gutierrez was one of the seven people with Legionnaires’ disease in the outbreak.

After his initial treatment, Gutierrez developed sepsis and other complications, including kidney failure, according to his wife, Susan Gutierrez, causing him to spend half of October in Tyler’s Christus Trinity Mother France Hospital.

Ruben Gutierrez bounced back and was released from the hospital in mid-October, but then he suffered setbacks and was readmitted to the hospital before passing away last week.

Susan Gutierrez said she was told the source of her husband’s contamination was unknown.

“They said it was something in the fair, but he was there every day,” she told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “It could have been the A/C; it could have been the hot tubs or (something else).”

East Texas fair outbreak: oversight essential

Legionella is naturally found in water, especially warm water. Hot tubs (or spas) that are not cleaned and disinfected often enough can become contaminated with the bacteria, and a person can become infected when they breathe in steam or mist from a contaminated hot tub.

Because high water temperatures make it hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill germs like Legionella, making sure the hot tub has the right disinfectant and pH levels is essential, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other human-made environments in which Legionella are found include:

  • air-conditioning system cooling towers
  • large plumbing systems
  • water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.
East Texas fair outbreak: seek care if sick

If you attended or worked at the East Texas State Fair and are exhibiting Legionnaires’ disease symptoms (see below), NET Health urges you to seek care from your health-care provider.

The disease is not contagious – that is, it cannot be passed from person to person – and it is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough. If that does not occur, however, it can lead to severe complications.

East Texas fair outbreak: symptoms

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection that – according to the CDC – is contracted by an estimated 25,000 Americans yearly. However, because of its nonspecific symptoms, only 5,000 cases are reported.

Symptoms – which usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella – mimic those of pneumonia and even the common flu. Along with cough, fever, and 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.