3 Recent Legionnaires' Disease Outbreaks Across the U.S.

In the summer and early fall of 2019, the United States saw several Legionnaires' disease outbreaks. These outbreaks were not limited to a particular state or building type, illustrating the need for comprehensive water management plans, no matter the location or facility. Since 2000, the number of reported cases of Legionnaires' disease in the country has grown by nearly five and a half times, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While the reason for this continued uptick remains unclear, three recent outbreaks across the U.S. show just how dangerous this waterborne pathogen can be. And since the disease is typically more prevalent during the summer and early fall, notes the CDC, now is an opportune time to emphasize the crucial need for routine water testing to your community.

1. Illinois Retirement Facility Outbreak

Several cases of Legionnaires' disease at a retirement facility in Batavia, Illinois, were confirmed in late August, according to the Aurora Beacon-News. Covenant Living at the Holmstad, a senior living community located about 45 miles from Chicago, reported the cases and began collaborating closely with public health officials on mitigation.

The facility's executive director says that mitigation steps included adding microbial filters to showerheads, flushing water fixtures regularly, cleaning the cooling tower mechanically and chemically, and treating water with higher doses of chlorine for a short period of time, the Aurora Beacon-News reports.

By mid-September, the number of cases at the senior living community had risen to 12, with two additional cases confirmed in the city, the Kane County Chronicle notes. The Kane County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health continue to investigate this outbreak.

2. Numerous Cases in Chesterfield County, Virginia

In July, the Virginia Department of Health began investigating nearly a dozen Legionnaires' disease cases in Chesterfield County, WWBT reports. Seven places around the county tested positive for Legionella, including a local elementary school and two middle schools.

The schools were closed while health officials from the county and the CDC worked to identify the source of the bacteria. County officials said in August that Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 was present in a cooling tower at one of the elementary schools, but noted it wasn't clear yet whether that was the source of illness.

By September, the three schools and two area high schools had tested positive for Legionella, according to WWBT. A twelfth case of Legionnaires' disease in the county was confirmed on September 16. The investigation remains ongoing.

3. Georgia's Largest Legionnaires' Outbreak

State health officials in Georgia confirmed in July that six guests who stayed at the Sheraton Atlanta had contracted Legionnaires' disease, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The hotel closed voluntarily on July 15 and hired environmental consultants to test water in the building.

Both the scope of the investigation and the known extent of the outbreak grew over the next several weeks. By August 9, it had become Georgia's largest Legionnaires' disease outbreak on record, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. Legionella factored into the death of a 49-year-old woman who had stayed at the Sheraton Atlanta, and a local photographer sued the hotel after becoming ill.

In mid-August, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that Legionella pneumophila had been found in a decorative fountain and a cooling tower, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Public health officials also said that the Sheraton Atlanta's whole water distribution had undergone remediation. A month after the first cases emerged, the hotel was cleared to reopen. The official total was 13 confirmed cases and 66 probable ones.

Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, told New York Times reporters on August 16 that testing and sampling of the water at the hotel would continue.

Preventing Future Outbreaks Is a Team Effort

Additional Legionnaires' disease cases in the U.S. were confirmed recently at a hotel in Illinois, a learning center in Missouri, and in Chemung County, New York. Identifying and managing Legionella in man-made water systems remains crucial for disease prevention. The CDC strongly encourages building owners and operators to put comprehensive water management programs in place.

Water lab leaders can support such proactive prevention strategies through collaboration on testing plans as well as performing timely, accurate tests for Legionella pneumophila. Given the latest Legionnaires' disease outbreaks, lab readiness is needed now more than ever.


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Alyssa Danigelis

Alyssa Danigelis is a professional freelance journalist who covers business, sustainability, energy, science, and technology. She received a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Having grown up in Burlington, Vermont, she spent formative time in Boston and pounded the pavement for years in New York City before moving to sunny Colorado, where she currently resides.