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Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Atlanta

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, one person has died of Legionnaires’ disease and 11 others have been diagnosed after staying at the Sheraton Atlanta hotel. Another 61 people have reported symptoms, suggesting 61 more probable cases of the disease. Those who contracted the disease attended a convention at the hotel in early July, and began complaining of lung problems shortly thereafter. Nancy Nydam, director of communications at the Georgia Department of Public Health, said, "Based on epidemiological evidence we have an outbreak among people who stayed at the (Sheraton Atlanta) during the same time period.” The Sheraton Atlanta is currently closed while being tested for the bacteria, to determine whether it is the source of the outbreak.

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Legionnaries’ disease is a serious type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, which can also cause Pontiac fever — a slightly less serious illness. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionella is found naturally in freshwater environments, but becomes a health concern when it grows and spreads into man-made water systems such as showerheads and sink faucets, hot tubs, air cooling systems, decorative fountains, hot water tanks and heaters, and large plumbing systems. When the bacterium grows and multiples in the water system of a building, it can spread in tiny droplets, small enough for people to inhale.

Those most at risk for contracting Legionnaires’ disease include people over 50, current or former smokers, and people with a chronic lung disease, weak immune system, cancer or an underlying illness such as diabetes, kidney failure or liver failure. According to a government report, about 1 in 10 of those who fall ill from Legionnaires’ disease will die. Each year, the disease infects around 10,000 to 18,000 in the United States, and the number who contracted the disease grew by almost four times the amount from 2000 to 2014.

Symptoms of the disease include feeling tired and weak, along with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, chest pain and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually appear within two to 10 days of being infected.

To help ensure optimal air and water quality, clean your air conditioner, heat ducts and filters regularly, and provide filtered water for every member of your family to avoid potentially deadly bacteria.

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