Legionella Outbreak Investigation Update

July 29, 2019

Atlanta -The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Fulton County Board of Health (FCBOH) are continuing their investigation into the Legionella outbreak at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. As of today, July 29, 2019, there are 11 lab-confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease and 55 probable cases of Legionnaires’ disease related to this outbreak. There are no reported deaths due to Legionnaires’ disease among hotel guests.

Probable cases are people who had illness consistent with Legionnaires’ disease, including pneumonia diagnosed by a clinician or chest X-ray, but without laboratory confirmation. The number of probable cases can change based on additional testing and lab results.

Since the first cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed two weeks ago, epidemiologists from DPH and FCBOH have been reviewing hundreds of survey responses from individuals who stayed at or visited the Sheraton Atlanta beween June 12 and July 15, 2019. The surveys help identify people who may have been ill, especially those with severe illness like pneumonia. The survey responses are also analyzed to compare activities at the hotel between the people who did become sick and the people who did not. As additional cases are identified, these data are continuously updated and analyzed. This is a standard process for public health outbreak investigations and can take weeks to complete as the investigation progresses.

DPH and FCBOH continue to work with the owners of the Sheraton Atlanta on sampling, testing and remediation. The hotel voluntarily closed July 15, 2019, and remains closed. The first set of environmental samples were collected July 19, 2019, and additional samples are being collected today, July 29, 2019. Testing environmental samples takes up to 14 days, and results are pending. The environmental sampling results combined with epidemiology findings will help to inform the next steps, such as remediation.

Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Legionella bacteria. People can get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain Legionella. Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include fever, chills, cough and shortness of breath.

Legionnaires’ disease requires treatment with antibiotics, and most cases of this illness are treated successfully. Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years or older, current or former smokers, people with chronic lung disease or weak immune systems may be at increased risk of getting sick if they are exposed to the bacteria.

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in fresh water. The bacteria grow best in warm water and can be found in shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains or plumbing systems in large buildings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people with Legionnaires' disease grew by nearly 4 times from 2000–2014. About 6,100 cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported in the United States in 2016. In Georgia, 189 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 2018, and 172 cases in 2017.

For more information about Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease visit dph.georgia.gov/legionellosis.