ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP/WSPA) — Hot tub water that sprayed into the air likely caused an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed four people in North Carolina last year, state health officials said Thursday.
The state Department of Health and Human released its final report on the outbreak, which infected people who attended a state fair in western North Carolina. The final report tallied 136 cases of Legionnaire’s disease and one case of Pontiac fever in residents of multiple states, officials said.
Ninety-six people were hospitalized.
People attending the North Carolina Mountain State Fair, held in September in Fletcher, were likely exposed to the bacteria in aerosolized water from hot tubs on display at the fair, the report said. Hot tubs have been linked to outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease nationally and internationally, state health officials said in a news release.
In response to this outbreak, the state Division of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control have distributed guidance for vendors and others on how to minimize risks from hot tubs and other display equipment that aerosolizes water, the news release said.
“Our sympathies are with the families and the people affected by this,” Dr. Zack Moore, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said.
The fair lasted 10 days, and the investigation showed that people who attended the fair near the end of those 10 days were more likely to have contracted the disease than those who visited near the beginning.
“People who entered the building where the hot tubs were on display and people who actually walked by the hot tubs were far more likely to have become sick than people who did not,” Moore said.
Health officials said the hot tubs were not drained and refilled, possibly giving the Legionella bacteria time to grow.
“A reminder of the importance of appropriate care and maintenance of hot tubs and other equipment that can aerosolize water–particularly in this type of setting where potentially large numbers of people can be exposed,” Moore said.
Dr. Moore told 7 News these kinds of guidelines are now going to be shared with any and everyone who needs to hear them.
“Making sure the water is being monitored, that whatever disinfectants are being used are being checked appropriately, and that appropriate cleaning disinfection procedures are used between displays,” he said.
“We will be looking forward to ways that we can proactively support vendors and event planners in our community to ensure that this guidance is well-known,” Buncombe County Public Health Director Jan Shepard said.
Two hot tub vendors were present at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. Those vendors were Soft Fun LLC and All Pro Billiards & Spas.
The attorneys representing around 50 victims in the Legionnaires outbreak sent 7 News the following statement:
“We are disappointed that the state of NC has failed to acknowledge its role as a probable source of tainted water to the hot tubs and will have additional information to share early next week. Right now, our prayers are with the affected families as they continue to seek answers for the loss of their loved ones.“
But health experts told 7 News they feel confident in their findings.
“There’s been no indication of any kinds of increase in people who use that same water supply,” Moore said.
“Although it’s a very tragic event, there’s been a lot of awareness and a lot of lessons that have been learned that will enable people to feel safe and be safe,” Shepard added.
As of right now, there won’t be any penalties for the hot tub vendors.
Click here for more information about the state’s guidelines for hot tub displays.
Legionnaire’s disease is form of bacterial pneumonia, or lung infection. It can be treated with antibiotics. The bacteria also can cause a milder flu-like illness called Pontiac fever, which doesn’t require treatment.
The final report confirms the cause that was included in an interim report released in October.