By: Pooja Sharma

A recent Legionnaire’s disease outbreak has forced a Central Texas hotel called the Round Rock Hotel to temporarily shut down its operations in the first week of October. It was closed after 4 people – one employee and 3 guests contracted the disease. A fifth and a sixth case were confirmed during the last week. The last 2 patients were taken to the hospital immediately and have been very sick. There could be (and likely are) more cases because Legionnaire’s disease can take around 12 days to develop it’s symptoms. One of the hotel guests and hotel employee are in a good condition as reported last Thursday.

Legionnaire’s Disease? What is that?

Legionnaire’s disease is a severe form of atypical pneumonia caused by any form of Legionella bacteria.The bacteria naturally occurs in freshwater, like lakes and streams. It can infect waters in systems that can directly affect humans. A water system could be anything from shower faucets, hot tubs, air conditioners, hot water tanks, and heaters even decorative fountains and large plumbing systems. This is when this bacteria becomes a problem.

The bacteria is not contagious, meaning it does not spread from person to person. Most people become infected by inhaling the bacteria in the form of mist. It, obviously, easily infects those who have a compromised immune system – like smokers, elders, kids, pregnant women, cancer patients, organ transplant patients, etc. A Legionella bacterium can easily spread in water systems it is present in. Some sources of Legionella bacteria include: street cleaning trucks, dishwashers, cooling towers, dishwashers etc.

The Outbreak

The first notification of the disease was released on September 29 when the first two Legionnaire’s cases were discovered. Other two came forward the very next week on October 2. The Springhill Suites then said in a statement there was one other potential case on October 4. It was confirmed on October 6. The sixth and the latest cases were confirmed on October 10. All of the infected individuals had been exposed to the hot tub or inhaled the mist through some medium. All of them were staying in the hotel at some point of time during the last summer and current fall seasons as follows: one was there in June, one in August, another one in late August, and one in September.

The hotel employee who contracted the disease had been in the hotel for only a week but did cross several times around the rooms which had hot tubs. A spokesperson from the Round Rock Hotel released a statement that the samples from the hotel have been sent for testing. The hotel engaged in consultation with a third party firm, just after the first two cases, to find out the source of the infection and rectify the problem. The hotel has already prepared to relocate its guests and those with existing reservations to some of it’s nearby hotels. The hotel has since closed. 

One of the victims was deeply surprised after finding out that the hotel of this calibre could cause this kind of a problem.

“How can you be sure of protecting yourself from something like this? What was the problem? The cause can be fairly simple. The workers or anyone who was in-charge of disinfecting the water systems did not do their jobs properly. There is no other way of such a deadly diseases that takes lives of around 10% of the people who gets it, to enter into such a reputed hotel.”

The hotel can be expected to remain closed till the end of October or more depending upon the situation. The tests does take awhile to come back.

Legionnaire’s disease forms around 2-9% of all the pneumonia cases that take place in a given year. In the US alone, the case count of the disease each year is around 8000-18000. Almost all of them require hospitalisation. The death rate for the disease is 10%. It is most common in summer and fall. Although, it can happen at any point of the year.

What are the symptoms of Legionnaires disease?

The symptoms can usually take around 2 weeks to develop. The infection begins with symptoms like headache, chills, fever and muscle pain.

After some days, an infected person can develop another set of symptoms like: shortness of breath, coughing, headache, mental confusion, chest pain and other gastrointestinal problems. Almost half of patients develop neurological symptoms, like confusion or some other mental changes.

Legionnaires disease primarily affects the lungs and can cause problems with breathing. Another form of Legionnaires disease can cause Pontiac fever. This does not affect the lungs but causes fever and muscle pains. These patients do not have pneumonia and recover within 2-5 days of treatment.

How is it detected and diagnosed?

Urgent medical attention is recommended upon the development any of these symptoms. Early treatment prevents severity of complications and shortens the recovery periods. Almost all patients need to be hospitalised. There are several tests available to diagnose the disease. But which ones depend on the symptoms. Some of them include: chest x-Rays, urine test and blood test. The tests generally have a look at your white blood cells, abnormalities in liver and kidneys, and low sodium in blood.

The treatment generally requires several forms of antibiotics to be given.

The first cases of Legionnaires occurred in 1976 in Pennsylvania. At that point of time the mortality rate associated with the disease was high. However, it has gone down a lot now.

If you have stayed at Round Rock Hotel at any point of time in the last few months and are exhibiting symptoms, it’s best you get diagnosed for Legionnaires disease. As mentioned, it can be tricky to detect as the symptoms match many other common diseases. So, just specifically ask for the test. 

UsafeFoods will continue to monitor this outbreak and report any updated as they are forthcoming.