1 dead in Napa County Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak

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NAPA – One person has died after at least a dozen people became infected in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Napa Countysaid health officials.

According to health official Dr. Karen Relucio, at least 12 county residents have been diagnosed and hospitalized with the bacterial infection since July 11. One person died from the outbreak, which was identified only as a person over 50 and at risk for serious illness.

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On Wednesday, officials said three veteran patients are in hospital. The people who are infected range in age from 58 to 80 years.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling aerosolized water containing Legionella bacteria, which can grow in warm water. The water atomized can come from cooling towers that supply air conditioning to large buildings, along with hot tubs, cooling misters, decorative fountains and plumbing systems.

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All diagnosed people live near the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel in Napa, where health officials found Legionella bacteria in a rooftop cooling tower.

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Chopper 5 above the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel in Napa.

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They noted that none of the people who were infected visited or stayed at the hotel.

“Our joint research team continues to work with Embassy Suites staff to address the source of exposure,” said Relucio. “Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we need to continue investigating other cooling towers and water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source.”

Health experts say there may be an explanation for that, as the bacteria may have been sprayed into the air by a fan in an AC unit.

“It’s released into the air through the water source, so any water that’s contaminated and then atomized can be inhaled. And people who are at higher risk and have underlying medical conditions can get Legionnaires’ Disease as a result,” said Relucio. at a press conference Wednesday evening.

The hotel has since taken the cooling tower offline. Officials continue to identify additional sources of the bacteria.

“While Legionnaires’ disease is a rare infection, it reminds us that the bacteria that cause the disease are common in nature and found in man-made water systems,” Relucio said. “This means it is very important for owners and operators of water systems that can create aerosols to take measures to prevent Legionella from growing and spreading in water systems.”

Napa County is working with the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health to investigate where else the bacteria live.

Health officials urged anyone living or working in Napa who has flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or difficulty breathing to contact their healthcare provider as soon as possible.

People at high risk for Legionnaires’ Disease include those over 50, cigarette smokers, those with chronic lung disease, or a compromised immune system. The disease is not spread from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics if detected early.

To prevent the spread of the bacteria, residents are urged to flush faucets and shower heads that have not been used recently. Devices that use water, such as humidifiers, respiratory therapy devices, water heaters, and hot tubs, must be cleaned and disinfected.

Sara Donchey contributed reporting.

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