BUNCOMBE COUNTY, NC (WSPA) – One person has died and officials say 14 total cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported by people who attended the N.C. Mountain State Fair earlier this month.
Buncombe County and Henderson County health departments, along with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), are investigating the cases.
The state says there have been 14 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease.
Of those cases, nine are in Buncombe County and include one person who died from the disease.
The fair was held in Fletcher, N.C. from Sept. 6 to Sept. 15.
“We don’t yet know whether people might have been exposed to Legionella bacteria at the NC Mountain State Fair,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said in a statement released by NCDHHS. “As a precaution, we are recommending that anyone who went to the fair and has symptoms of pneumonia, like cough, fever or shortness of breath, see a doctor right away and talk with them about Legionnaires’ disease.”
Heath officials say Legionnaires’ disease is a “form of bacterial pneumonia (lung infection). A person may develop Legionnaires’ disease where they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water into the lungs that contains Legionella bacteria.”
“Legionnaires’ disease can be a severe pneumonia, and in those patients with chronic health problems, it can be severe, causing hospitalization, causing hospitalization to intensive care unit,” said Dr. James Whitehouse with Mission Infectious Disease.
There are nine confirmed cases in Buncombe County, including one person who has died.
“In North Carolina, more than 150 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported each year. Symptoms typically begin two to 10 days after exposure and can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. Legionnaires’ disease is a serious illness but can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Legionella bacteria can also cause a milder flu-like illness called Pontiac fever, which resolves without treatment.”
People at highest risk of the disease includes those 50 years or older, current or former smokers, and those with chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system, according to health officials.
“It tends to affect people who don’t have normal health,” Dr. Whitehouse said.
People who attended the NC Mountain State Fair who are experiencing cough, fever or shortness of breath are urged to call their health care provider right away.
Health officials haven’t yet pinpointed a source for the cases in western North Carolina.
“At this point we are working with the fair organizers to try to identify sources of aerosolized water mists and vapors that could have been present during the fair. Those would be the ways that people usually get exposed,” Dr. Moore said.
To report possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease, call the Division of Public Health at 919-733-3419 or your local health department.
In Buncombe County, call 828-250-5109 or in Henderson County, call 828-694-6019.
To learn more about Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease, click here.