The first case was reported to the DHS in March and the other three in August. No information was released on the victims.
The Osthoff Resort general manager Lola Roeh sent a memo to the resort’s owners in early September informing them of the illnesses. Shortly thereafter, it was learned that a men’s restroom near an indoor pool and a cooling tower tested positive for elevated levels of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.
Water samples were collected and tested by the Division of Public Health in the DHS; Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; and the Sheboygan County Health and Human Services Department.
The Osthoff Resort: quick actions
Roeh said both areas were disinfected within two hours after resort officials learned of the positive tests. The latest test results, which were received last week, came back negative for Legionella.
“The Osthoff has been in full cooperation with health authorities in their investigation,” Roeh informed the Sheboygan Press in an email. “While The Osthoff has not been determined as the source, there has been rigorous testing at The Osthoff as a part of the systematic process of this type of investigation.”
The initial testing was conducted after the Sheboygan County Health Department notified the resort of the cases.
Anna Kocharian, an epidemiologist with the Bureau of Communicable Disease of the DHS, said that the five-year average of confirmed Legionnaires’ disease cases in Wisconsin is 135. She went on to say that the DHS conducts only about five Legionella investigations annually.
The Osthoff Resort: high risk
“Most healthy people who are exposed to Legionella do not get Legionnaires’ disease,” Kocharian’s email to the Sheboygan Press read. “… people with increased risk of developing illness are aged 50 years or older, are current or past smokers, have chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system.”
Other people most susceptible to contracting Legionnaires’ disease after inhaling Legionella include:
- heavy drinkers of alcohol
- organ-transplant recipients
- anyone on a specific drug protocol (for instance, corticosteroids).
The DHS is recommending that anyone in those high-risk categories contact their health-care provider as soon as they start to experience symptoms.
The Osthoff Resort: symptoms
If you have stayed at, are an employee of, or travel within the vicinity of The Osthoff Resort and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your health-care provider immediately. Legionnaires’ disease symptoms include:
- fever (can be 104 degrees or higher) and chills
- severe headaches
- muscle pain
- loss of appetite.
After the first few days, symptoms can worsen to include:
- pleuritic chest pain, which is caused by inflamed lungs
- mental confusion and agitation
- coughing, which can produce blood and mucus
- gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (about one-third of all Legionnaires cases result in such problems)
- shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea.
The Osthoff Resort: more on Legionnaires
Legionnaires’ disease is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of lung infection.
The disease is treatable with antibiotics, although if it is not diagnosed early enough, it can lead to severe complications. Legionnaires’ disease cannot be passed from person to person.
Although Legionnaires primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds, as well as other parts of the body. The disease also can lead to life-threatening complications, such as respiratory failure, septic shock, and acute kidney failure.
An estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur annually in the United States, according to statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific symptoms.
Additionally, about 10 percent of people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.
Sources for Legionella
Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (vapor or mist). The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are primarily found in human-made environments.
Outbreaks and clusters have been linked to numerous sources, including:
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- water systems, such as those used in hotels, apartment complexes, hospitals, and nursing homes
- large plumbing systems
- hot-water tanks and heaters
- bathroom showers and faucets
- swimming pools, hot tubs and whirlpools
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines, like those in the produce sections of grocery stores
- hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.