By: Heather Williams

The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California may be the source of a recent uptick in Legionnaires’ disease in the Anaheim area.  Local medical professional in Orange County, California were notified of an increase in the cases of this illness and put health care officials on alert.  Interviews and routine investigation lead the Orange County Health Care Agency to Disneyland.

The happiest place on Earth may not be so happy for some.  At this time, 12 cases or Legionnaires’ disease have been reported.  Of the 12 patients, 8 were park visitors, 1 was a park employee, and 3 others had not attended the park during the time period in which they could have become ill. The timing of the illnesses currently linked is between September 12, 2017 and September 27, 2017 according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.  So far, there has been one death in this current outbreak.

Additional investigation by Disney officials determined that two of the park’s 18 cooling towers tested for elevated levels of Legionella bacteria.  This was an unacceptable outcome and those two towers were taken out of service.  The towers were treated and the park believes that they are safe to use, however county officials indicated that the towers should remain down until further testing comes back clean.  This could take up to two weeks before they are back up and running.

Disney Official Issues Statement

While a few of those who have fallen ill did not attend the park, the majority of those affected spent some time at Disneyland.  This paired with the positive Legionella results points the finger strongly toward the Disneyland resort.

Dr. Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts issued the following statement:

“On Oct. 27, 2017, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) notified local medical professionals of increased cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Anaheim area. According to the OCHCA, the exposure period was Sept. 12-27.

 Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious, cannot be transmitted person to person, and comes from a bacteria that is naturally in the environment, usually in water. It can become a health concern if it grows and spreads in human-made water systems and then comes in contact with vulnerable persons who inhale small droplets of contaminated water. Most people who are exposed to the bacteria do not become ill. Those at risk include people who are immunocompromised, those with chronic lung disease and the elderly. Legionnaires’ disease can have symptoms similar to pneumonia. Symptoms can include a high fever, chills, and a cough.

 Upon being notified by OCHCA about the increased cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Anaheim, we worked closely with health care officials to see if there were potential areas of concern. We reviewed our water quality testing data, including testing performed by our third-party water quality maintenance contractor, and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria. These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down to further eliminate any ongoing concern. We have proactively shared this information with OCHCA and, given our actions, they have indicated there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities.

 We have always had cooperative relationships with health agencies on which we rely for information and guidance to help ensure that our safety procedures and protocols are current and effective, and we will continue to work closely with them.

 While there is no ongoing concern at Disneyland Resort, we are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all who visit or work at our parks and resorts. If you have further questions about Legionnaires’ disease, I encourage you to visit https://www.cdc.gov/legionella/index.html.

If you have any additional questions about the Disneyland Resort, please contact us at 714-781-4669.”

How Can I Help the Investigation?

Many cases of Legionnaires’ disease go undiagnosed and lumped into the more common pneumonia category.  It may take much longer to recover if the appropriate medication is not provided to kill this particular bacterium.  Investigators rely heavily on the interview and patient history process to connect the dots to find the common source when an outbreak occurs.  This situation would be considered an outbreak because more than two people are experiencing the same symptoms after having attended the same function.

If you are someone you know are experiencing the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which begins with the patient feeling tired and weak followed by the next set of symptoms, contact your health care provider and suggest the test.  This could help others who may be in the same medical situation find answers sooner.  Additional symptoms to look out for include then next step in the illness where a cough often develops.  The cough may be severe enough to cause the patient to cough up sputum.  Often patients end up at the hospital with a high fever, around 103 ⁰F, and many must be admitted to the intensive care unit.  Diarrhea is another key symptom associated with this illness along with: stomach discomfort, nausea, and vomiting.  Additionally, the patient may present symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and headaches.

As more cases come in and are identified as being Legionnaires’ disease, additional investigation may uncover a common source.  For now, Disneyland resorts seems to be the only source.  This is backed up with the data obtained from testing the cooling towers at Disneyland.While Disneyland may be one source of Legionnaires’, it is possible another source might be identified as more information becomes available.  With three patients who have not attended the park with the illness and the possibility of several others who have not been officially diagnosed, it is possible there could be another commonality to investigate.

Potential Sources

The Legionella bacteria responsible for Legionnaire’s disease becomes infectious when it is inhaled in tiny droplets, making its way into the lungs of unsuspecting people.  Generally, those over the age of 50, smokers, those with chronic lung issues, and those with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to serious illness related to Legionnaires’ disease.

A common source, according to Legionella.org, is the water distribution system of large buildings.  This includes, hotels, hospitals, school, and even resorts.  Cooling towers are a common source of Legionnaires’ disease but other places can incubate and spread this bacteria to unsuspecting lungs.  These include humidifiers, whirlpool spas, hot springs, and mist machines.

 

Sources:

https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/disneyland-resort-message/

http://www.unsafefoods.com/2017/11/13/something-air-disney-legionnaires-disease-infects-9-park-goers-3-others-resulting-1-death/

http://legionella.org/about-the-disease/what-is-legionnaires-disease/symptoms/

http://legionella.org/about-the-disease/what-is-legionnaires-disease/water-sources/