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Walla Walla Legionnaires’ Disease

Posted in Legionella,Legionnaire's disease,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on July 18, 2023

Concerns over recent illnesses and positive laboratory tests prompt health officials to warn those who stayed at a Walla Walla, Washington hotel of Legionella bacteria exposure.

Health Department Investigation

The Walla Wall County Department of Community Health initiated an investigation into the potential Legionella bacteria exposure after being notified by the Washington State Department of Health of three cases of Legionnaires’ disease linked to staying at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Walla Walla, Washington.

When patients test positive for certain illnesses, the investigators ask for information that might track down the source. For example, if you were ill of a foodborne illness, the investigators would ask for a list of foods you have eaten, where you got them from, and where you ate them. In the case of Legionnaires’ disease, an investigator would ask you places you have been or spent time at.

The common element must have been one particular La Quinta Inn & Suites hotel in Walla Walla, as reports indicate sampling was performed.

Water samples were collected at the hotel on July 11, 2023. The results were positive for the Legionella bacteria.

Legionnaires’ Disease Explained

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by infection with the Legionella bacteria. Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria that can be found in freshwater environments. Places like lakes and streams. The risk of exposure in these environments is small, as the bodies of water are larger. The problem comes when the bacteria grows and spreads in human-made water systems.

Common Sources of Legionella Infection

Cooling towers used for centralized air-cooling systems for buildings or other industrial processes are the most common modern mode of Legionella infection. Though there are other water sources of exposure.

Large, complex plumbing systems or those with dead pipes where construction is in progress allow bacteria to grow and spread. Hot water tanks and hot water heaters provide a happy, warm environment and a place to hang out, leading to potential Legionella bacterial growth. Shower heads and sink faucets as well as hot tubs provide modes of exposure. Even decorative fountains and water features that can be found in both indoor and outdoor locations.

Single family homes, most apartment buildings, and car air-conditioning units do not use water to cool the air, so there is no risk for Legionella growth. However, if a vehicle’s windshield wiper fluid tank is filled with water and not “genuine windshield cleaner fluid,” it could be a potential source of infection.

How is Legionnaires’ Disease Spread?

Legionnaires’ disease is not generally spread from person to person. This method of infection occurs in extremely rare and specific circumstances.

People become infected with Legionella bacteria by breathing in contaminated water droplets caused by aerosolized water in the air.

In some cases, people can become sick by aspirating contaminated drinking water. This happens when water accidentally gets breathed into the lungs while drinking. A common description of this is “water going down the wrong hole.” Those with increased risk of aspiration or with swallowing difficulties may experience this type of exposure risk more than others.

Risk Factors

Most healthy individuals do not fall ill after being exposed to Legionella bacteria. However, certain groups of people are at an increased risk. While the infection can be treated with antibiotics, it is a serious illness. Most will require hospitalization to make a full recovery and a scary statistic of 1 in 10 will die from the infection. This jumps to 1 in 4 resulting in death if illness is acquired while staying in a healthcare facility.

Common risk factors include:

  • Age: People 50 years or older
  • Smoking: Both current and former smokers
  • Chronic Lung Disease: Diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema
  • Weakened Immune Systems: People with existing immune system problems due to illness, medication, or other situations such as recovering from surgery, transplant operation, or chemotherapy)
  • People with Cancer
  • Underlying Health Problems: Diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

Symptoms of Legionella Infection

The most common illness associated with Legionella infection is Legionnaires’ disease, though another illness may result with the same exposure.

Pontiac fever is a milder infection than that of Legionnaires’ disease. Symptoms mostly involve fever and muscle aches and can begin anywhere from a few hours to several days after being exposed to the harmful bacteria. These symptoms generally last no more than a week. The key difference between Pontiac fever and Legionnaires’ disease is the absence of pneumonia.

Legionnaires’ disease is often under-diagnosed, as it is similar to other types of pneumonia. In fact, chest x-rays often cannot differentiate between Legionnaires’ disease and pneumonia. This is why recovery often takes longer than needed – appropriate medication specifically for Legionella bacteria is not administered when not properly diagnosed.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease often include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. In some cases, symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, and confusion may be present. Symptoms usually begin between 2 and 14 days after exposure but could be longer.

How Do I Know If I Have a Legionella Infection?

If you have developed pneumonia symptoms, seek medical attention right away. If you have been exposed to Legionella, be sure to mention it, or if you have used a hot tub, spent any nights away from home, or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.

Specific tests can be performed that will identify if you have been infected with Legionella bacteria or some other potential bad bug. Legionnaires’ disease is not diagnosed by symptoms alone.

Your doctor may request a urine test or obtain a phlegm sample or lung washing for analysis to properly diagnose and ensure appropriate treatment.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Exposed?

Those who stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Walla Walla during the first two weeks of July and showing symptoms of infection should seek medical attention, says Dr. Daniel Kaminsky, the Walla Walla County public health officer.

It is also a good idea to seek a consultation of a trusted Legionnaires’ disease lawyer that can help you navigate this stressful process for you or a loved one.

Don’t wait. Get experienced help right away. The Lange Law Firm, LLC can immediately assist you and take the burden off of your shoulders.

A knowledgeable Legionnaires’ disease lawyer can help you by:

  • Obtaining all relevant medical reports
  • Investigating the scene of the exposure
  • Collecting reports completed by the local health department and/or state and federal agencies who conducted investigations
  • Interviewing witnesses and other victims that acquired the disease as well
  • Estimating the value of your personal injury
  • Negotiating with the defendant’s insurance company
  • Representing you during your trial for your case, if necessary
  • Hiring qualified experts to testify and provide their expert opinion

Call (833) 330-3663 or click here to email for a free consultation.