NAPA, Calif. (KGO) -- The Napa County Public Health Department is reporting an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, causing several hospitalizations and one death.
Napa County Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio says the outbreak is linked to contaminated water vapor from a cooling tower on the roof of the Embassy Suites on California Boulevard, which was preliminarily identified with high levels of Legionella bacteria from a sample test. County officials say the cooling tower has since been taken offline, which mitigates any ongoing risk to public health. Napa County Public Health is continuing its investigation to identify any additional sources that might contain the Legionella bacteria in unsafe amounts.
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"Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we must continue to investigate other cooling towers and water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source," Dr. Relucio said.
Officials say one person has died from the disease, while three others are still hospitalized. Eight people have recovered. Many of the patients have had underlying medical conditions and all are over the age of 50.
None of the 12 residents diagnosed with the disease have identified as having stayed or visited the Embassy Suites hotel, but Dr. Relucio says vaporized water from the cooling tower likely reached those who live nearby. The Legionella bacteria which causes the disease, can travel up to a mile.
Napa County officials say residents and those living or working in the city who have flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or difficulty breathing should contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible. People can get Legionnaires' disease by breathing in aerosolized (small droplets) water containing Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires' disease is not spread from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics when caught early.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, a professor of epidemiology at U.C. Berkeley says the symptoms of Legionnaires' disease are similar to pneumonia.
"Basically it is a kind of pneumonia so it's an infection in the lung, caused by a bacterium that is inhaled typically in contaminated water," Reingold said.
The news of the outbreak has come as a shock to many who live nearby.
Don Lowery says he had no idea so many of his neighbors were getting sick and still worries about the potential spread of the disease.
"I'm shocked it would happen anywhere, to tell you the truth. Legionnaire's disease, I mean I haven't heard about that in my lifetime," he said.
Napa County says this is the first death related to this disease in their county in several years.
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