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Health district investigates outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease

Updated March 6, 2023 - 7:15 pm

Public health authorities are investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at The Orleans after two guests contracted the form of pneumonia.

Both guests, who stayed separately at the hotel in December and January, have since recovered from the disease, officials with the Southern Nevada Health District said Friday.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling droplets of water contaminated with Legionella, a common bacteria that may be found in showers, hot tubs, faucets, cooling towers, misters and decorative fountains.

The district found the bacteria in showers and sinks of the rooms where the two guests stayed as well as in a third room, according to Rob Cole, a senior environmental health specialist with the district.

Remediation is underway at the property, including flushing the water system and slightly increasing chlorine levels, Cole said in an interview.

The hotel, which is located west of the Strip on Tropicana Avenue, is assisting with the investigation and notifying current guests and former guests whose stays date back to mid-December, the district said.

Brian Labus, an assistant professor at UNLV’s School of Public Health, investigated multiple Legionnaires’ outbreaks as an epidemiologist at the district from 2001 to 2015.

“As soon as you have two cases that are linked together in space and time, we conduct an outbreak investigation,” he said. “And the reason is, Legionnaires’ disease is something that is difficult to diagnose unless you’re specifically looking for it.”

Specific blood or urine tests are required, and as a result, “if we find two cases, we know that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Health district to continue testing

The symptoms are similar to other types of pneumonia and can include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches. The disease is treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms will usually begin within two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria but may not develop for 14 days.

Guests who stayed at the hotel more than two weeks ago and have not developed symptoms are not at risk for disease, the district said. If guests develop symptoms within 14 days of their stay, they should seek medical attention immediately and inform their health care provider of their potential exposure.

Most healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not become sick. However, the illness can be severe and sometimes result in death. It generally does not spread from person to person.

Factors such as chronic lung disease, smoking and a weakened immune system put individuals at greater risk. The risk the outbreak poses varies from individual to individual, said Haley Blake, a communicable disease supervisor for the district.

“The health district can’t make a specific determination for any individual whether or not they should cancel a reservation,” Blake said. She advised guests to speak with their health care provider if they have concerns.

In a statement, The Orleans said it is working closely with the health department on the investigation.

“It is important to keep in mind that this matter involves two reported cases among the thousands of guests who stayed at the Orleans over the last several months without incident,” the statement said. “While the report is limited to two incidents, the health and safety of our guests is extremely important to us, and work is underway to prevent future issues.”

The health district was notified of the two cases, which were in people from out-of-state, in early February, officials said. It then took water samples from the property and sent them to a lab for analysis, a process that takes two weeks.

Once it had the results, it began working with the property on remediation, Cole said. The district will continue to conduct tests at the property over the next year.

The district routinely investigates individual cases of Legionnaires disease, Cole said, noting that complex water systems are susceptible to the bacteria.

However, “two or more cases within a 12-month period is not routine for us” and constitute an outbreak, he said.

The last outbreak investigated by the district was in 2018 at Harrah’s in Laughlin, where two cases were reported, district officials said.

Guests who stayed at The Orleans since Dec. 16 and experienced symptoms up to 14 days after their stay can report their illness to the health district using a survey posted on its website.

To assist people with questions, the district has activated a helpline at 702-759-4636 (INFO) and 1-866-767-5038, Sunday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. PST.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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