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The Hancock County Health Department (HCHD) confirmed four cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the county after reports of an illness connected to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.

The confirmation of the four illnesses comes days after officials at Mountaineer – located in New Cumberland – announced that they were suspending live racing at the thoroughbred track until Nov. 7 to “make some improvements.”

However, the Daily Racing Form (DRF) reported that the suspension was due to the diagnosis of at least one case of Legionnaires’ disease among Mountaineer employees. The DRF reported that information was obtained from “officials with knowledge of the situation.”

Hancock County: sketchy info

Jackie Huff, HCHD health administrator, said there’s “no evidence” linking the outbreak to the track. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” Huff said.

Huff went on to say, “We have not identified the source. We have four cases in Hancock County, but I can’t say any of them are at Mountaineer.”

Federal privacy regulations prohibit the HCHD from discussing the cases or revealing any information about the four people sickened. The health department is interviewing all four to determine commonalities, such as where they live, where they work, and where they have visited.

Huff confirmed that Mountaineer is merely one location being investigated. She did not identify the other locations.

Hancock County: eight days lost

Jana Tetrault, executive director of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (MPHBPA), said the MPHBPA had received no information other than an Oct. 27 statement that announced a “safety review” of the clubhouse and grandstand areas from Mountaineer’s general manager.

“As far as the horsemen are concerned, we’re training on the track,” Tetrault said. “Normal training hours are in effect.”

Mountaineer’s race meet is scheduled to end Nov. 28, and right now, the track will lose eight racing days because of the suspension. The MPHBPA, however, is hoping those days will be rescheduled, which would require the approval of the West Virginia Racing Commission.

“Everyone’s concerned about the safety of the people involved,” Tetrault said.

Visited or work at Mountaineer and feeling ill?
If you have been to Mountaineer – whether you’re an employee, or a guest who has visited the backside, clubhouse, grandstand, or jockeys’ area – and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your doctor out of an abundance of caution.

Four Legionnaires cases confirmed in West Virginia's Hancock County

West Virginia’s Hancock County has four confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease just days after reports of an illness connected to Mountaineer Racetrack. Racing has been suspended at the track until Nov. 7.

Hancock County: Legionnaires FAQs

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of lung infection that is treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early.

However, if it is not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications – and it can even become deadly. The disease is not contagious – that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

There are about 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) annually in the United States. However, only 20 percent (5,000) of those are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

How does one catch it?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of vapor or mist. The bacteria thrive in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments, including:

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

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can contract Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection from the bacteria include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, current or former
  • people with chronic lung disease or COPD (most commonly, emphysema or bronchitis)
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • individuals on specific drug protocols (for instance, corticosteroids).

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of other types of pneumonia and can even resemble those of flu (influenza). They include:

  • coughing
  • dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).