Update, July 25: The Georgia Department of Health confirmed another case of Legionnaires’ disease in people who recently stayed at or visited the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, upping the case count to 10. The update comes only two days after officials added three cases to the total.
Hotel officials closed its doors July 15, when they announced the first three illnesses. The hotel is scheduled to remain closed through at least Aug. 11 as attempts are made to pinpoint the source of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.
Original post, July 24: The Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak has tripled to nine victims, and hotel officials have announced that the hotel would remain closed for at least another three weeks.
When the Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak was announced July 15, there were three confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially deadly respiratory illness. The count, however, has risen to nine, and the only commonality between the victims is that all nine of them were guests at the hotel in either late June or early July.
Hotel officials said the building would be closed to guests until at least Aug. 11, as it undergoes remediation (cleaning and disinfection) and environmental testing. More than 450 guests had to be relocated to other hotels, and future reservations were canceled or rebooked.
Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak: testing continues
Ken Peduzzi, the hotel’s general manager, confirmed that the Sheraton Atlanta has hired environmental consultants to test the water in numerous places: the pool, hot tub, water fountain, chillers, as well as other areas. “At this time, it remains unknown if the source of the exposure is located within the hotel,” Peduzzi said in a statement.
State and county health officials also collected samples from various areas throughout the hotel.
Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak: hotel oversight lacking
Hospitals and nursing homes are required to bolster oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of non-medical buildings, such as hotels.
Said Elliott Olsen, who has filed Legionnaires lawsuits on behalf of patients and families for more than two decades: “There’s not a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium or a large building. I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”
Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak: disease info
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection) that – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – produces an estimated 25,000 cases in the U.S. annually. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific symptoms.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that there have been almost 90 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the state this year. Last year, there were 180 confirmed cases, a 4.5-fold increase from the state’s 41 cases in 2008.
Symptoms are numerous
Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious – it cannot be passed from person to person – and it usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. The onset of symptoms usually includes:
- muscle aches
- fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
By Day 2 or 3, symptoms can worsen to include:
- coughing, which can produce mucus or blood
- dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- pleurisy (chest pains caused by inflamed tissues surrounding the lungs; also called pleuritis or pleuritic chest pains)
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- confusion and other mental changes.
Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.
Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, but people at the most significant risk of infection include:
- anyone 50 years old or older
- smokers, both current and former
- anyone with a chronic lung disease, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, most commonly emphysema or bronchitis)
- anyone with a compromised immune system
Sheraton Atlanta Legionnaires outbreak: treatment
Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics, and most cases can be treated successfully. If the disease is not diagnosed early enough, however, it can lead to severe complications, such as:
- endocarditis: an infection of the inner lining of the heart that can affect the heart’s ability to maintain adequate blood flow through the body.
- kidney failure: Legionella toxins can damage the kidneys’ ability to eliminate waste from the blood, resulting in kidney failure.
- pericarditis: swelling of the pericardium, the primary membrane around the heart; this can also affect the ability of the heart to circulate blood throughout the body.
- respiratory failure: caused by changes to the lung tissue, or oxygen loss in arteries supplying the lungs.
- septic shock: occurs when Legionella toxins enter the bloodstream and cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to a loss of adequate blood supply to the organs.
Numerous tests can be done
To help identify the presence of Legionella bacteria quickly, a doctor can use a test that checks urine for Legionella antigens — foreign substances that trigger a response from the immune system. Other tests that could be performed include:
- blood tests
- chest X-rays, which don’t confirm Legionnaires’ disease but can show the extent of infection in the lungs
- tests on a sample of sputum or lung tissue
- CT scan of the brain or a spinal tap, usually performed if there are neurological symptoms, such as confusion or difficulty concentrating.
Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. You can contact him for a free consultation by filling out the following form and submitting it: