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Behind the Legionnaires' outbreak

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The recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease linked to Sheraton Atlanta has left one dead and dozens more ill, and experts searched for the cause for a month. That’s not surprising, according to Dr. Allison Chamberlain, researach assistant professor of epidemiology. As she told The Washington Post, “It takes a lot of investigation from individuals with a variety of expertise and backgrounds … to understand where to test and how to test and how to pinpoint the culprit.”

Chamberlain also answered questions about the outbreak and the disease on GPB radio:

How does one contract Legionnaires’?

A person contracts Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in water vapor that contains Legionella bacteria. If a person has certain risk factors—primarily, being over the age of 50, being immunocompromised, or having underlying lung conditions, they're more susceptible to complications from Legionnaires’ disease. About 5 percent to 15 percent of infected persons will die from this disease.

What are the symptoms?

Some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, fever, sometimes nausea, and cough, primarily after the first few days.

Why are hotels a common place for Legionella bacteria?

In large buildings like hotels, there's a lot of plumbing. There's a lot of places for water to be aerosolized, such as showerheads, spas, saunas, pools, and hot tubs. That’s why hotels can be a problem area for this particular bacteria.

What can hotels do to prevent this type of outbreak?

Hotels can have proactive water management plans in place to routinely test their water safety parameters, including pH, temperature, and chlorine levels, as well as the Legionella bacteria itself. If they find themselves in a situation like this, the best thing to do is to do what the Sheraton did—close and do the testing that needs to be done. They'll take water samples from all across the hotel to see if they can find where it’s coming from.

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