Fatal outbreak of Legionnaires disease in US, Canada

Eight individuals who stayed at the luxury J W Marriott Hotel in the financial district of Chicago between July 16 and August 15 have contracted a respiratory disease caused by Legionella bacteria.

At least two of the Chicago sufferers have died from complications.

Legionellosis has also broken out recently in Lower Québec City, Canada, with 107 cases and eight deaths confirmed as of last weekend. Officials believe the Canadian illness probably came from the cooling systems of two large towers, where the bacteria can grow in the stagnant water and spread the mist through the air conditioning vents. One hundred buildings in Québec have been disinfected so far.

The outbreak is a timely warning to Australian accommodation providers to check air conditioning systems and spas before the summer.

The J W Marriott in Chicago is a historic Daniel Burnham building that was renovated just two years ago. The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that the bacteria could have grown in water and spread through vapor in either the hotel’s air conditioning duct system or its fountain, pool and whirlpool spa, which the hotel has now emptied and cleaned.

The illness is spread by breathing in a warm mist or vapor contaminated with Legionella. It does not travel from person to person. With quick identification of the bacteria and adminstration of the right drugs, deaths can usually be limited to about 5% of those exposed.


Some people can be infected with the Legionella bacteria and have only mild symptoms or no illness at all. The disease may develop from several days to two weeks after exposure. Symptoms can include headache, muscle pain, fever, chills, shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. Fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and confusion or other mental changes may also occur.

Legionnaires’ disease, also known as “legion fever” the potentially lethal form of the infection, produces fever and pneumonia. About 8000 to 18,000 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease occur each year in the United States.

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