First Death Confirmed In Atlanta Legionella Outbreak; 61 'Probable' Cases

Aug 6, 2019

The first death from Legionnaires' disease related to an outbreak of Legionella at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Atlanta was confirmed Tuesday by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

There are now 12 lab-confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, including one death, and 61 probable cases, DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said Tuesday. That's up from 55 suspected cases and 11 confirmed.

The Sheraton voluntarily closed July 15. The first set of environmental samples were collected four days later and additional samples were collected July 29, Nydam said.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria.

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People can contract the disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria.

Dr. Allison Chamberlain told On Second Thought, "What happens is, if a person has certain risk factors — primarily, being over the age of 50, immunocompromised, having underlying lung conditions- they're more susceptible to complications from Legionnaires’ disease and can have very serious complications."

Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, cough and shortness of breath. Treatment involves antibiotics, and most cases of this illness are treated successfully.

The Sheraton is one of the host hotels for the upcoming Dragon Con event in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. Officials with the hotel have said the Sheraton could open as early as Aug. 11.

Dragon Con released a statement saying they remain in contact with hotel management about testing and remediation.

"The convention has developed a full set of contingency plans in the event that the Sheraton is not able to re-open on time," officials said. "We will announce the contingency plans if we need to use them, but are not releasing them at this time to avoid confusion."

A spokeswoman for Sheraton said that "management and ownership retained experts who implemented a plan for the requisite testing required by the state."

Testing was completed in late July and the hotel has moved ahead with remedial activities while it awaits results.

The number of people with Legionnaires' disease grew by nearly four times from 2000 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 6,100 cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported in the United States in 2016. In Georgia, 189 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 2018, and 172 cases in 2017.

Seven Georgians have died of Legionnaires' disease this year.