Health Officials Investigate Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

Since the outbreak of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the public has become increasingly aware of Legionnaire's disease, a vicious variant of pneumonia often spread through inhalation of contaminated water. The bacteria causes everything from severe fever, headache, gastrointestinal issues, and lunge problems. Health officials in Orange County are currently investigating their own outbreak of the bacteria, which has already proven lethal.

The first warnings of a Legionnaire's disease occurred in early September, when 12 seperate instances of infection were reported in the Anaheim area. Investigations by the Orange County Health Care Agency revealed that at least eight of the cases involved patients who had recently visited the local Disneyland theme park, with one identifying as a current employee of the park, working as a cast member. The patients ranged in age from 52 up to 94, an alarming fact given the severity of cases in patients aged 50 or older. 10 of the diagnosed cases resulted in hospitalization, and one case proved fatal. This follows an outbreak earlier in the year, where in May two patients were hospitalized after contracting the bacteria from a public spa facility.

While Disneyland seems a likely point of infection, health officials are unclear if that is the case. One patient reportedly had not visited the park, though Disneyland's own investigation proved revealing. The park did determine that bacteria levels in two of the park's cooling towers near the New Orleans Square's train station did in fact contain elevated levels of Legionella, the typically freshwater dwelling bacteria that causes the infection. However, the towers were located in a backstage section of the park, so other than the one staff member among the 12 cases, it is unclear if or how the other patients would have been in proximity to the contaminated towers. For their part, Disneyland employees immediately closed the towers after tests confirmed the presence of the bacteria.

Orange County officials are still considering the park's towers as a possible vector point for the outbreak. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts' chief medical officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, confirmed that she had been contacted by officials regarding the park's alleged role. She also reported that since the tests, the towers were briefly cleared by the park only to be shut down again. The towers were chemically treated to kill off the harmful bacteria, but will remained closed until county officials complete the investigation and clear the facilities for use.


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