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The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) announced seven new cases in the Hampton Beach Legionnaires’ disease cluster, increasing the case count to 12. In addition, one victim has died.

“It is likely there will be additional cases to report in the next few days,” state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said.

Hampton Beach – a resort area in the town of Hampton – is the focus of the investigation. Eleven victims were visitors to the popular tourist destination, which is the busiest beach community in the state.

All 12 took ill between late July and mid-August. Information on the genders, ages, and residences of the victims was not released.

(Note: This is classified as a “cluster” because the cases are linked in space and time but there is no single source. If the health department can pinpoint a definitive Legionella source, officials would recategorize this as an “outbreak.”)

Hampton Beach: spas likely source

Officials said the probable source of Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – is hot tub spas at the Sands Resort and the Harris Sea Ranch Motel along Ashworth Avenue. The spas were closed, but officials said they no longer present a risk. Both hotels remain open.

Tom Saab, co-owner of the Sands Resort, told Boston 25 News that his hotel’s hot tub is drained and cleaned several times weekly.

“They asked as a courtesy if we could shut down our hot tub, which is a very small hot tub (that) has been here for 25 years, and we’ve never had a problem whatsoever,” he said. “It’s immaculate. It has all brand-new filters, new pump.”

Hampton Beach Legionnaires' disease case count hits 12; one dead

New Hampshire health officials announced seven more cases in the Hampton Beach Legionnaires’ disease cluster, increasing the case count to 12. One victim has died.

Hampton Beach: drones used

Officials, however, said they are still trying to pinpoint the source of the Legionella, even using a drone to investigate the Hampton Beach area for other possible sources.

“We are continuing to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate other potential sources of exposure in the community, and so far, we have not identified any other potential common sources in this area,” Chan told WMUR News 9. “We believe that the overall current health risk in the community is low.”

Officials have narrowed their investigative focus to an area of Ashworth Avenue between Island Path and M Street. “We’re interviewing people who have become infected, and we encourage anyone who may have been diagnosed with Legionella since visiting this area to please contact us,” Beth Daly, chief of the DPHS’ Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, told New England Cable News (NECN.com).

Anyone with information or questions is asked to call the DPHS inquiry line at 603-271-9461 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. seven days a week.

Hampton Beach: Legionnaires’ info

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially deadly type of pneumonia, or lung infection. It is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia.

According to the CDC, there are approximately 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) annually in the U.S. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, generally in the form of vapor or mist. The bacteria grow best in warm water and are found primarily in human-made environments.

Legionnaires’ symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of influenza (flu):

  • coughing
  • dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • chills
  • fever (often 104 degrees or higher)
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).

High-risk categories
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions (COPD) – are at a higher risk. Other high-risk categories include:

  • people with compromised immune systems
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • people on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, for example).

Legionella sources
Legionnaires’ disease clusters and outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources, including:

  • water systems (apartment complexes, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • plumbing systems
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • faucets and showers
  • swimming pools, whirlpools and hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines (grocery store produce sections)
  • hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.