Georgia health officials are investigating a possible outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Sheraton Hotel Atlanta after five former guests were confirmed to have the disease.
Ken Peduzzi, General Manager of Sheraton Atlanta, issued a statement to the press saying that the hotel was voluntarily closed while public health officials look for a possible source.
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of severe pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria. People contract the disease by inhaling vapor or mist containing the bacteria, which thrive in warm-water environments. Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in hotels, apartment complexes, and other public buildings are often traced to swimming pools and the cooling towers connected to the building’s air conditioning systems.
According to CNN, several guests of the Sheraton Hotel Atlanta complained of respiratory problems after attending a convention at the hotel a couple of weeks ago.
FOX 5 Atlanta interviewed several guests outside the building, some of whom expressed concern and confusion over the situation. The hotel said it is relocating guests to nearby hotels or refunding them. Some guests, however, said they were simply told to leave the building without an explanation from hotel employees.
Mr. Peduzzi said there is no direct evidence that Legionella bacteria is present in the hotel, and that the decision was made to close “out of an abundance of caution.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Fulton County Board of Health are currently investigating the potential outbreak, which comes just weeks ahead of Dragon Con, one of Atlanta’s largest conventions, which draws more than 80,000 visitors annually. The Sheraton Hotel Atlanta is used as a staging ground for Dragon Con, where convention participants go to pick up their access badges. Nearly all the convention visitors go to the hotel and many also stay there. The event starts Aug. 29 and runs through Sept. 2.
Dragon Con issued a public statement saying that is currently working with Sheraton management “to understand the situation, the solutions, and the timeframes involved.”
Legionnaires’ disease was named after a 1976 outbreak at a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion, the first known outbreak of the disease. That outbreak sickened 130 people and caused the deaths of 25, all of whom attended the convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that up to 18,000 people are hospitalized for Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. every year. Because many infections go undiagnosed and unreported, the agency believes the number of cases is likely much higher.
The mortality rate for Legionnaires’ disease ranges from 5 to 30 percent depending on the outbreak and infected population.