Many questions have arisen since the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease among visitors to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair held at the NC Agriculture Center in Buncombe County. Some questions surrounding the outbreak are related to the health risks associated with the disease, and other questions concern legal issues. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported there were 97 confirmed cases and one death associated with the outbreak at the fair as of October 1 and officials continue the investigation to determine the cause of the outbreak. The outbreak has affected people in 16 North Carolina counties and 6 cases have been reported in South Carolina. The highest number of cases have reported in Buncombe and Henderson counties.
I remember when Legionnaires’ disease first hit the news in 1976 when a large group of American Legion members staying in a hotel in Philadelphia contracted a mysterious disease. Over 180 persons contracted the condition, and 29 died. Ultimately, it was diagnosed as a type of pneumonia that was spread by contaminated water vapor in the hotel HVAC system. Dubbed “Legionnaire’s Disease,” the illness occurs with some regularity. It is not spread by person to person contact; instead the bacteria thrives in warm water and is spread by breathing in aerosolized water. The bacteria thrives at 95 degrees F and can be found in hot water tanks, cooling towers, and evaporative condensers of large air conditioning systems, and evaporative coolers, among other places.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include chills, cough, fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and vomiting. Persons experiencing those symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately and talk to them about Legionnaire’s disease. Urine testing can confirm the presence of legionella, the bacteria known to cause the diseases. Symptoms typically appear within 2-14 days after fair attendance, and the condition is typically treated with antibiotics.