An outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease possibly associated with the water system at SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Altamonte Springs, Fla., has raised questions about what the hotel was doing to prevent such an event. That’s because hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions with large man-made water systems are expected to guard against Legionella bacteria.
So far, the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County has confirmed three cases of Legionnaire’s Disease, a type of pneumonia that can be fatal 50 percent of the time if no treatment is sought. The health department said all three patients stayed or had exposure to the SpringHill Suites Hotel Altamonte Springs/Maitland located at 205 W. State Rd 436. The most recent cases occurred in April and the health department wrote to all recent guests of the hotel on June 1 to alert them to the risk.
Fred Pritzker, an infectious disease attorney who has represented victims of Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks around the country, said his Bad Bug Law Team will conduct its own investigation into the Florida outbreak to see what steps had been taken by the hotel to keep Legionella out. “So often we find inadequate controls,” Pritzker said. “Any lack of vigilance or scrutiny can come back to haunt.”
Past outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease have been linked to Legionella bacteria in man-made water systems such as hot tubs, spas, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. People get infected by breathing contaminated mist or aspirating contaminated droplets. The disease doesn’t spread from person to person, but the bacteria can harbor in water systems for long periods. In the case of SpringHill Suites, Seminole County Health Officer Dr. Swannie Jett said the water systems at the Florida hotel have been treated to kill any remaining bacteria and the facility is continuing to accommodate visitors.
Public health agencies and many private experts, as well, recommend that facilities frequently test for the presence of Legionella bacteria. Other standard safeguards include redesigning pipework to prevent water from stagnating, ensure tight seals on all water tanks, use hot water temperatures to kill potential bacteria or treat the water with chemicals benign to people that would kill Legionella.