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An Unfortunate Day at the Spa: Crookston Legionnaires Outbreak

Posted in Legionella,Legionnaire's disease,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on February 15, 2019

A disease is the last thing anyone wants to get at the spa. That may be what some unfortunate souls got during the recent Crookston Legionnaires Outbreak.

This past January, that’s exactly what happened to four people who visited Crookston Inn and Convention Center in Minnesota. Shortly after visiting, these people developed Legionnaire’s disease. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is currently working with the hotel to determine the exact source of the legionella bacteria. The ill people visited the hotel between Jan 22 and Jan 27. Investigators found they were not overnight guests but people who attended events at the facility or dined at the on-site restaurant. Early evidence also implicates the spa.

MDH is working with the hotel staff to clean and decontaminate the spa and pool facility, as well as notify guests who stayed at the hotel between Jan 14 and Feb 13. MDH recommends that any visitors to the hotel during that time period who subsequently had pneumonia symptoms go see a health care provided to be evaluated for Legionnaires’ disease.

These preventative measures are sensible, as resorts of this nature tend to attract some of the most at-risk groups for Legionnaires’ disease (namely, folk over 50 years of age) and also have a lot of complex plumbing systems and occasions for breathing steam or other water vapor.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory illness with symptoms similar to pneumonia. You contract this disease, or its milder cousin, Pontiac Fever, by inhaling water droplets or mist containing the bacteria known as Legionella pneumophila. Collectively, Legionnaires’ and Pontic Fever are called legionellosis. Symptoms may start to manifest 2 to 10 days after exposure to Legionella pneumophila. There are a variety of ways to be exposed, but as you can imagine most of them involve complex plumbing systems and hydrosol of one form or another.

The Mayo Clinic explains that symptoms typically start with headaches and muscle pain which may be accompanied by chills and a fever of 104 or more. By the second or third day of sickness, the symptoms may progress to include coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. There may also be gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. As with pneumonia, the ill person may also become confused or exhibit mental changes.

Pontiac Fever, the milder form of legionellosis, doesn’t progress to a lung infection. Pontiac Fever consists “only” of fever, chills, headache and muscle pain.

Like other bad bacterial infections, Legionnaires’ disease, left untreated, can lead to lethal complications. Respiratory failure, septic shock and acute kidney failure are all possibilities if Legionnaires’ disease gets out of hand. This is why it is so important that anyone who stayed at the Crookston Inn and Convention Center who has experienced symptoms go to a doctor to be test. They should be diagnosed by a doctor and then treated as soon as possible to prevent these possible consequences.

Bacteria like spas, too

Spas are places people go for refreshment. Warm water, steam rooms, massages, hot tubs…hot water has a great many healing uses. The complex plumbing that goes along with the fancy pools and tubs must be cleaned thoroughly, else it become a place of refreshment for microscopic visitors. The more complex the system, the higher the risk. Legionella pneumophila occurs naturally in lakes and streams but becomes a problem when it inhabits man-made water systems.

Though bacteria are everywhere, legionellosis typically only infects people who breathe in–or aspirate—contaminated mist, vapor, or water. What’s aspiration? It’s when you choke in such a way that spittle or water goes down the wrong pipe to your defenseless lungs instead of down to your stomach. Your stomach has good bacteria and enzymes to deal with unwanted intruders. Your lungs, by contrast, are a nice warm, moist, habitat.

The Risk

Legionnaires’ disease is fairly rare, but very serious. Science estimates that 10,000 to 18,000 of people in the United States become infected by the Legionella pneumophila bacteria each year. Numbers collected by the CDC indicate that about 1 in 10 of those people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die. There is no vaccine for this sneaky little bacteria.

Those most at risk to Legionnaires’ disease are those who have fragile health or a compromised immune system to start with. Additionally, people over age 50, and people who smoke are at risk. Smokers are particularly vulnerable because their aspiration prevention mechanism is dysfunctional. They are far more likely to inhale water droplets than a nonsmoker in the same situation. Folks who have lung disease such as COPD or emphysema have a similar vulnerability.

However, even an otherwise healthy person who contracts Legionnaires’ disease is likely to be hospitalization. Admission to intensive care is also common. For all that, Legionnaires’ is treated with antibiotics. As mentioned, in most cases (9 out of 10) treatment is successful. It’s a serious illness, though, and symptoms of legionella take a long time to fade. Survivors often show persistent fatigue, neurological or muscular issues in the months after primary recovery. Most will recover entirely within a year.

Staying Safe

The existence of Legionnaire’s disease is no reason to give up spa days. However, there are other things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. If you or a loved one have lung disease, cancer, or a recent organ transplant, be very careful when traveling. Look for accommodations that look clean and well maintained and have a good reputation. Also, maybe skip the public pool or hot tub until your health is fully restored. The single biggest thing you can do to prevent Legionellosis is to quit smoking or help your loved one quit smoking.

If you or a loved one fall ill within a couple days of visiting a spa or public place with man-made mist, pay very close attention to the symptoms and the progression. If the symptoms escalate or persist, go see a doctor for testing. It is better to know for sure if you have Legionnaires’ or not early on in your illness. Make sure that you stay in touch with your loved ones and know how illness affects their bodies so you can be alert to any signs of more serious infection.

Our Lawyers Can Help You:

Our lawyer, Jory Lange, is one of the nation’s leading Legionnaires disease lawyers and has helped families all across the nation. If you have developed Legionnaires disease, we want you to know that an experienced lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating the matter and offering free legal consultations.

Those diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease may be entitled to compensation.

Get in touch with us by giving a call on (833) 330-3663 or complete the form here.

By: Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)