Outbreak of Legionnaires' disease sickens 12, kills 1 in Napa County

Health officials are investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in California’s Napa County. Photo by Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Aug. 4 (UPI) — Health officials in California are investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has killed one person and sickened at least 11 others, official said.

Local, state and federal health officials are in Napa County trying to locate the source of Legionella, the bacteria that causes the serious lung infection, after a dozen residents have became sick with the disease since July 11.

Officials have been testing cooling towers, decorative fountains and other human-made water sources for Legionella, and officials said one possible source of the outbreak may be the cooling tower at the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel.

The health officials said a sample take from the tower showed high levels of the bacteria. The tower has since been taken offline, they said.

“Our joint investigation team continues to work with Embassy Suites staff to remediate the source of exposure,” Dr. Karen Relucio, Napa County Health Officer, said in a statement.

“Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we must continue to investigate other cooling towers and water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source.”

Since the outbreak began, 12 people were hospitalized with the disease. Officials said one person over the age of 50 who suffered from severe disease has died.

As of Wednesday, three cases remain in hospital, officials said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection caused by the Legionella bacteria, which is found naturally in freshwater environments but can become a health concern when it is allowed to grow in human-made water systems, such as shower heads and faucets, hot tubs and water tanks.

The bacteria spreads via small water droplets that can be inhaled, with those at increased risk include people 50 years of age and older, smokers and those with chronic lung disease and weakened immune systems, it said.

The health officials are urging Napa County residents suffering from flu-like systems to contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

“Although Legionnaires’ disease is a rare infection, this is a reminder that the bacteria that cause it are common in nature and can be found in manmade water systems,” Relucio said. “This means it’s very important for owners and managers of water systems that can create aerosols to take steps to prevent Legionella from growing and spreading in water systems.”