Disneyland Shuts Down Cooling Towers After Several Visitors Contract Legionnaires

ANAHEIM (CBSLA) – Officials at Disneyland have shut down two cooling towers that were found to have high levels of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.

The Orange County Health Care Agency says 12 cases of the bacterial illness were discovered about three weeks ago. All the patients lived or had spent time in Anaheim, and nine had visited Disneyland in September. Their ages ranged from 52 to 94.

One patient who had additional health issues, has died. That patient did not visit the park, officials said.

The health agency says there haven’t been any new cases reported.

In an email to CBS2 Saturday, Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, wrote:

“On October 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaires’ disease cases in Anaheim. We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria. These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down. We have proactively shared this information with OCHCA and given our actions, they have indicated there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities.”

Hymel said the exposure period for the outbreak was between Sept. 12 and Sept. 27.

“According to OCHCA, there is no longer any known risk associated with any of our facilities,” Hymel said.

Disney notified OCHCA on Nov. 3 that elevated levels of Legionella were discovered in two of its 18 cooling towers on Oct. 2 and disinfected on Oct. 3, the health care agency reports.

“Neither Disney nor the contractor would have been aware of the human cases at that time,” OCHCA spokesperson Jessica Good said in a statement.

Disney took the two towers out of service Nov. 1. and put them back into service on Nov. 5. However, OCHCA asked Disney to again pull them out of service Nov. 8 “until they are verified to be free from contamination,” Good said. The towers were reportedly located behind the New Orleans Square train station.

Health agency officials say Legionnaires’ disease is becoming more common, citing 55 reports of Legionella disease in Orange County through October 2017, compared with 53 for the entire year of 2016 and 33 in 2015.

Officials say Legionella, at low levels, poses no threat to humans and is commonly found in human-made water systems. It becomes problematic when it is in large quantities, typically due to stagnant or improperly sanitized spas and water systems. When Legionella bacterial levels are high, it can be transmitted through inhalation of contaminated water vapor. Typical sources are improperly sanitized spas; indoor and outdoor fountains, showers, and cooling towers (which emit water vapor into the air) used as part of air conditioning systems in large spaces such as hospitals, hotels, entertainment venues, etc.

Symptoms of legionellosis develop 2-10 days after exposure, and include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, and headaches. Infected persons often have pneumonia and may need to be hospitalized. It is treated with antibiotics, which can improve symptoms and shorten the length of illness.

“Once they have the symptoms it’s not like he typical walking pneumonia. They are quite sick,” Dr. Suman Radhakrishna said.

Persons with legionellosis are not infectious; the infection is not spread from person to person.

Those most at risk of getting sick from Legionella infection include people who are smokers, have chronic lung disease or weak immune systems, and people over the age of 65.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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