By David Rogers. June 24, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Water is the human body’s lifeblood, but apparently warm bodies of water may also be the greatest source of threats to human health.
COVER IMAGE: Artwork courtesy of Everday Health (www.everydayhealth.com), a New York Stock Exchange listed company (Symbol: EVDY)
The water system at Blowing Rock’s Meadowbrook Inn came under scrutiny by the Appalachian District Health Department (“AppHealthCare”) this week because three people have contracted Legionnaire’s Disease, a form of pneumonia. Common to all three individuals’ cases: all stayed at or visited the hotel in the 10 days before illness onset, reportedly in May of this year. Whether that commonality is mere coincidence or a contributing factor has yet to be determined or confirmed.
All three patients are reportedly recovering as a result of medical treatments.
According to a press release received by Blowing Rock News from the agency, AppHealthCare is investigating to identify potential sources of exposure to Legionella bacteria in all three cases, but no definitive identification of a source at the hotel or elsewhere in the Blowing Rock community has been identified. At this point, it appears that there are only reasoned suspicions of cause. The AppHealthCare press release also states that Meadowbrook Inn officials are cooperating with the investigation and conducting additional tests of its water supply systems.
“Legionnaire’s disease is a type of pneumonia that is caused by breathing in mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that contains Legionella bacteria,” explains the AppHealthCare press release. “These bacteria live in water and are found naturally in the environment. Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious; you cannot catch it from other people.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that Legionella is a bacterium found naturally in freshwater environments, including lakes and streams. It reports, “This bacterium grows best in warm water.” In human-made water systems, it lists:
- Hot tubs that aren’t drained after each use
- Hot water tanks and heaters
- Large plumbing systems
- Cooling towers, such as air conditioning units for large buildings
- Decorative fountains
The CDC report continues, “After Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, that contaminated water then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in. People are exposed to Legionella when they breathe in mist (small droplets of water in the air) containing the bacteria. One example might be from breathing in droplets sprayed from a hot tub that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected.
“Less commonly, Legionella can be spread by aspiration of drinking water, which is when water “goes down the wrong pipe,” into the trachea (windpipe) and lungs instead of down the digestive tract. People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties. In general, Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever are not spread from one person to another.”
The CDC adds, “Most healthy people do not get sick after being exposed to Legionella.” It adds a list of people at increased risk of getting sick, including:
- People 50 years or older
- Current or former smokers
- People with chronic lung disease, such as COPD or emphysema
- People with a weak immune system from other diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure
- People who take drugs that suppress or weaken the immune system, such as after a transplant operation or chemotherapy
A CDC-published “fact sheet” on Legionnaire’s Disease (CLICK HERE) suggests that about 10% of people contracting the disease will die from the infection, so anyone suspecting that they have contracted it should take their symptoms seriously. The signs and symptoms include cough, muscle aches, high fever, shortness of breath, and headache. Doctors use chest x-rays or physical exams to check for pneumonia, and their tests might also include urine or sputum (phlegm) samples to see if a lung infection is caused by Legionella.
Interestingly, a document published by the CDC (CLICK HERE)reports that Legionnaire’s disease was not identified until 1976 when 221 cases of illness occurred among attendees of an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Infection by Legionella is now classified into two clinically distinct diseases, Pontiac fever (a milder illness that does not involve pneumonia) and Legionnaire’s disease.
Warm Water = Summertime Threats?
Whether the three patients being reported as Legionnaire’s Disease victims actually contracted the bacterium at Meadowbrook Inn or even during their stay in Blowing Rock has yet to be conclusively determined, but the incidence of illness underscores the summertime risk to people choosing recreation alternatives in warm bodies of water.
On the same day as the Appalachian District Health Department report on Legionnaire’s Disease, Charlotte Business Journal’s Jennifer Thomas reported that an Ohio teen died after contracting a rare, brain-eating amoeba, possibly at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on the northern outskirts of Charlotte.
The related infection is caused, according to the CDC, by Naegleria fowleri, a one-celled organism that can be fatal if forced up the nose. While fewer than 10 cases have been reported annually in the U.S. during the past 53 years, the Charlotte Business Journal cites, “Health officials say exposure likely occurred at the whitewater center when the teen was riding in a raft with several others (and the raft) overturned.”
For the complete Charlotte Business Journal article, CLICK HERE.