One person died and 11 others became ill with Legionnaires’ Disease in Napa County, California, health officials said, including three people who are still hospitalized with the rare disease.
The Legionella bacteria that causes it has been detected in the cooling tower of the Embassy Suites Napa Valley in the city of Napa, the county’s health department saidbut an investigation is underway and other sources are being tested.
None of the 12 who became ill during the outbreak that began on July 11 were staying at the hotel, and they were not employees, said Napa County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio at a press conference on Wednesday.
All 12 are Napa County residents and not tourists, she said, and in many of the cases they live in the area where the hotel is.
Three people remained in hospital on Wednesday and one of those patients was on a ventilator, Relucio said. The other eight recovered.
The Legionella bacterium lives in water, but can spread if that water is sprayed.
“If a cooling tower is contaminated with the bacteria, it can spread up to a mile,” Relucio says.
That cooling tower has been taken offline, “which mitigates any lingering risk to public health,” the health department said.
In an outbreak area, it is also common to find more than one source, according to the department.
Legionnaires’ disease causes severe pneumonia. The person who died was described as over 50 years old and with risk factors for serious illness.
The ages of people who got the disease range from 58 to 80, Relucio said.
“The only thing that strikes us is that a lot of them have underlying medical conditions,” such as lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease or other chronic diseases, she said.
Hilton, the company that owns Embassy Suites, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
Relucio said health officials have not identified hotel guests or employees who have contracted the disease, although the incubation period could be as long as 14 days.
Not everyone exposed to the bacteria gets the disease, and most healthy people exposed don’t get it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
People 50 and older, immunocompromised people, current or former smokers, or people with lung disease are among those at increased risk.
The bacterium occurs naturally in freshwater bodies such as lakes, but the greatest threat to humans occurs when it grows and spreads in man-made building water systems, the agency said.
Legionnaires’ disease is rare, Relucio said. Napa County usually sees zero to two cases of Legionella per year.
The 12 cases were reported to health authorities from July 11 to 27, the health department said. They live in the city of Napa, but one lives in Calistoga but had a history of visiting the city, Relucio said.