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The J.M. Tull Gwinnett Family YMCA in suburban Atlanta temporarily closed parts of the facility last week because of the potential for Legionella bacteria infection, according to numerous news reports.

Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease or Legionellosis, a respiratory illness that can result in death.

Lawrenceville, GA, YMCAOfficials of the Lawrenceville YMCA closed the pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and shower areas. All other areas of the facility remained open.

The Gwinnett County Health Department alerted YMCA officials about multiple cases of Legionella infection involving people who had used the facilities. It is unknown how many visitors reported health issues.

“Based on information provided by the health department, we immediately closed the potential areas of concern,” the YMCA told members in a letter. “Although there are currently no environmental samples showing this bacteria is present in our facility, we are taking every precaution and have hired an outside company who specializes in remediation for public facilities.”

Remediation, which is performed to reverse or stop environmental damage, consists of cleaning, heat treating, and hyper-chlorinating water tanks and water systems. It can also include the addition of filters to showers, faucets, and hoses.

Members, recent visitors or employees of the club who may be exhibiting symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease (see below) should immediately contact their health-care provider. Those members also should call the Gwinnett County Health Department at 770-339-4260 and report their symptoms to the epidemiologist.

What are the symptoms? 

Legionnaires’ disease looks like other forms of pneumonia or even the flu, which is why so many cases go unreported every year. Early symptoms can include the following:

  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees or higher
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches.

After the first few days, symptoms can worsen and include:

  • chest pain when breathing, called pleuritic chest pain (due to inflamed lungs)
  • confusion and agitation
  • a cough, which may produce mucus and blood
  • diarrhea (about 30 percent of Legionnaires’ disease cases result in gastrointestinal problems)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • shortness of breath.

The amount of time between contracting the bacteria and developing symptoms – called the “incubation” period – is usually 2 to 10 days. The incubation period, however, can be as much as 16 days.

Who is at risk? 

Anyone can get the disease, but those at higher risk of infection include:

  • people 50 years old or older
  • smokers, current or former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with suppressed immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • people who are following specific drug protocols (for example, corticosteroids).