Outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease Connected to Disneyland

The Orange County Health Care Agency announced Friday that they have discovered the likely source for an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that occurred last month in Anaheim. The culprit appears to be two large cooling towers in Disneyland near the New Orleans Square Train Station.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became concerned in September when reports emerged of 12 different cases of Legionnaires' disease, a lung infection caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila. The Legionella pneumophila bacteria flourishes in warm water and is easily spread through water droplets. When the contaminated droplets are inhaled by humans, they can develop a lung infection. Most people infected with Legionella pneumophila never show any symptoms. However, people with lung problems or with immune disorders are particularly vulnerable to Legionnaires' disease. All 12 of the infected patients are residents of Anaheim or had been in Anaheim within the last month. Nine of the patients had also visited Disneyland. One of the affected individuals is an employee of Disneyland. While one victim did not require hospitalization, 10 others were admitted. A twelfth victim experienced complications and subsequently died. The Orange County Health Care Agency reported that the youngest victim is 52 and the oldest is 94. Officials also stated that there have been no new reported cases of the disease in Anaheim since September.

According to Disneyland, the amusement park routinely tests their cooling towers for bacteria. In September, these tests showed an elevated level of Legionella pneumophila in two cooling towers located about 100 feet away from areas of the park that are accessible to visitors. The staff subsequently drained and disinfected the towers. As a precaution, the park disinfected the towers again on November 1 after they learned of the local outbreak. The Orange County Health Care Agency has asked Disneyland to keep the towers turned off until testing can guarantee that the bacteria is not present.

Cooling towers are a common breeding ground for Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease. In 1985, a bacterial infection spread from a cooling tower in a British hospital and killed 28 people. In 2006, a Canadian nursing home was the source of another epidemic that led to 21 deaths. San Quentin State Prison's cooling towers became tainted in 2015, causing 81 cases of Legionnaires' disease.


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