Elliot Olsen has regained millions for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member were sickened by a state fair hot tub display, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released its final report on last fall’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in which four people died and more than 130 others sickened, identifying the most likely cause as a hot tub display at the Mountain State Fair.
Stated the report: “This outbreak most likely resulted from exposure to Legionella bacteria in aerosolized water from hot tubs on display at the fair,” which was held Sept. 6-15 at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center in Fletcher.
“Legionella bacteria were likely present in one or more of the hot tubs from the beginning of the fair and amplified over the course of the fair leading to more exposures as time went on.”
Legionnaires’ disease – which is also known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia – is a respiratory illness that is contracted when people inhale microscopic aerosolized water droplets (vapor or mist), such as those formed by hot tubs, misting stations, showers or large air conditioners.
Hot tub display: officials puzzled
Hot tubs were on display at the Mountain State Fair in the Davis Event Center, but the report concluded it could not determine how the bacteria “were introduced into the hot tubs.”
Hot tubs have been identified as the source in other Legionnaires outbreaks around the world.
“We don’t know how Legionella came to be in the hot tubs initially,” said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist. “But what appears to have happened is that there was a small amount present either from the water that was used to fill it or from other equipment that was used.”
Properly maintaining equipment that aerosolizes water, including hot tubs, is of the utmost importance, according to the report. Legionella can contaminate hot tubs when they are not cleaned or disinfected enough.
The high water temperatures in hot tubs make it challenging to maintain disinfectant levels needed to kill germs like Legionella. Making sure hot tubs have the right disinfectant (such as chlorine), and pH levels are essential, which is why consistent monitoring is required.
Hot tub display: CDC response
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Health Advisory in response to the North Carolina outbreak. The CDC developed and distributed guidance for vendors and public health practitioners on how to minimize risks at temporary events (such as fairs, home and garden shows, and conventions) from hot tubs and other display equipment that aerosolizes water.
The outbreak was first identified on Sept. 23, eight days after the Mountain State Fair had concluded. State and local public health departments launched an investigation with the CDC and assistance from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“We were able to quickly rule out any significant ongoing exposures at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center and provide early investigation findings to the public in less than two weeks,” Moore said.
Hot tub display: East Texas State Fair
A similar outbreak last September, albeit on a much smaller scale, occurred at the East Texas State Fair, although health officials have not identified a source. The water system and hot tub display are possible sources in the outbreak, in which one person died and seven others sickened.
Susan Gutierrez lost her husband, Ruben, 69, who died after being hospitalized for most of last October. Ruben Gutierrez was at the East Texas State Fair almost every day of the Sept. 20-29 event at Harvey Hall in Tyler.
“The disease is highly preventable,” Elliot Olsen, who has been retained by Mrs. Gutierrez, told KLTV-TV of Tyler. “If someone is keeping a close eye on the water supply, the disease can be prevented. It’s all about stopping the bacteria from proliferating. So I think that’s the biggest message: This is highly preventable.”
Olsen said his first steps would be looking through data from the Northeast Texas Public Health District (NET Health). At some point, he’ll bring in his own epidemiologist.
“What I’d be looking to do for the family is regain money to compensate them for the loss of emotional support and companionship given to them by Mr. Gutierrez,” Olsen said.
According to Olsen, at least one other person who contracted the disease and visited the fair has contacted him.
Hot tub display: Legionella found
Phigenics Analytical Services Laboratory in Fayetteville, Arkansas, released a preliminary testing report showing no Legionella bacteria was found in water samples taken from Harvey Hall.
Dead Legionella bacteria, however, was found in water collected from two kitchen sinks in the building. The report indicated the number of viable bacteria found on the two sinks was below the levels recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (Note: Non-viable Legionella is bacteria that will not grow and is considered dead.)
East Texas Water Quality, under the oversight of ERI Consulting, Inc., a Tyler environmental engineering firm hired by the city, manually disinfected the water fixtures at Harvey Hall. “We flushed the system, disinfected the system and the fixtures, and we are controlling the hot water in the building by turning it off,” said Larry Snodgrass, ERI Consulting president.