Nancy Nydam, director of communications at the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Monday that the outbreak at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel “is the largest recorded Legionella outbreak in Georgia.”
At least one person has died as a result, Nydam confirmed to Fox News last week. At the time, she said there were also 12 lab-confirmed cases of the disease, including the one death, and another 61 “probable cases.” There are now 63 probable cases, Nydam said Monday.
The source of the outbreak, which affected guests who visited or stayed at the downtown Atlanta hotel between June 12 and July 15, has not yet been identified. The hotel voluntarily closed as a result of the outbreak and will remain so “until the source of the Legionella is located and remediation is complete,” state health officials said in a statement.
“Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia,'” according to the Mayo Clinic, which explains pneumonia as an inflammation of the lung that is typically caused by an infection.
“You can't catch Legionnaires' disease from person-to-person contact. Instead, most people get Legionnaires' disease from inhaling the bacteria,” the Mayo Clinic adds, noting that older adults, those who smoke, or those with “weakened immune systems” are the most susceptible.
Legionella pneumophila, a bacterium, is usually the cause of the illness. It can be found in soil and water, but more commonly causes infection when it multiplies in water systems (e.g., hot tubs and air conditioners).
The disease is treatable with antibiotics, and those who are sickened typically recover in full. Symptoms often include fever, chills, cough, and shortness of breath, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
In a statement on Facebook, Sheraton Atlanta's General Manager, Ken Peduzzi, said the hotel has been “working closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health, Fulton County Board of Health and environmental experts to conduct testing to ensure there is no threat of Legionella infection.”
“A thorough cleaning of the hotel’s entire water distribution system has been completed as a precautionary measure, including cleaning, scrubbing and chlorination of all water features. At this time, we are awaiting additional testing results and we will complete a review of those results, as will the Georgia Department of Public Health,” he continued, noting the hotel could be closed until at least August 14.