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UPDATE, AUG. 28, 9:10 p.m.
A fifth case of Legionnaires’ disease near Ashworth Avenue was confirmed by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health Services (DPHS).

ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 28, 1:51 p.m.
Four people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in the resort town of Hampton, the DPHS said.

All four people who were sickened have been treated and released.

The illnesses have been categorized as a “cluster” and not an “outbreak” because the cases are linked in space and time but there is no single source. If a definitive source – such as a cooling tower or water system responsible for spreading the Legionella – is pinpointed, officials would then recategorize the illnesses as an “outbreak.”

Legionnaires' disease cluster investigated in Hampton, New Hampshire

Four people have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in the resort town of Hampton, New Hampshire. The cluster is being investigated by numerous agencies.

Hampton cluster: beach area likely

Health officials said all four illnesses have occurred in the past month. The infectious field was narrowed to an area of Ashworth Avenue between Island Path and H Street in the Hampton Beach area, a popular tourist destination and the busiest beach community in New Hampshire.

The DPHS recommends that anybody who is at an increased risk for the disease should “consider postponing their visit to the area” in an abundance of caution.

“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, Bureau of Infectious Disease Control chief, told New England Cable News (NECN.com).

Hampton cluster: high-risk categories

Anyone can become ill from Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, but those most susceptible to infection include the following:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • anyone on a specific drug protocol (corticosteroids, for example).

Legionella is a serious infection,” DPHS director Lisa Morris said in a statement. “We want to make sure the public is aware of the potential risk of this disease so that each person can make a decision for themselves about visiting the area in the best interest of their health.”

Hampton cluster: other cases possible

The DPHS is investigating possible additional cases, and is considering an industrial-size air conditioning unit as the potential source. Said Daly: “(The source is probably) a large system that includes water … spewing this bacteria out into the environment.”

Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (vapor or mist). The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments. Legionella cannot be spread from person to person.

Healthy people exposed to Legionella generally do not become ill, but it is possible that they could develop a potentially severe bacterial pneumonia. If that is not identified early, the result could be death.

In the past five years, New Hampshire has averaged 32 Legionnaires’ disease cases annually, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said. “We have not investigated a cluster … in the last 10 to 15 years,” he told WMUR News 9.

Hampton cluster: Legionnaires’ info

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia, or lung infection. Symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and can even resemble those of influenza (flu). Those symptoms can include:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. An estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States on a yearly basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms. In addition, 10 percent of people who develop Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

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

  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large plumbing systems
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • swimming pools, whirlpools, and hot tubs
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines, like those in the produce sections of grocery stores
  • hand-held sprayers
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • water systems, like those in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels.