The Sheraton Atlanta has temporarily closed to conduct testing for legionella bacteria, after several guests of the hotel were diagnosed with legionnaires’ disease, a dangerous respiratory condition also known as Pontiac fever. According to a statement by hotel management, the closure will continue at least until August 11th. The Sheraton has not been confirmed as the source of the outbreak, but no other locations are currently being tested, and all ten victims identified so far appear to have attended the same conference at the hotel.
Legionnaires’ Is a Potentially Deadly Waterborne Illness
Legionella bacteria, which causes legionnaires’ disease, occurs naturally in wild fresh water sources and can become hazardous to humans when it colonizes plumbing systems. Transmission usually occurs through breathing aerosolized droplets of contaminated water, introducing the bacteria directly into the respiratory system. Legionnaires’ primarily manifests as severe pneumonia, with coughing, fever, muscle aches, and headaches, but can also cause digestive distress and confusion.
About 10% of people diagnosed with legionnaire’s will die of their illness. In healthcare facilities, where most patients already have compromised immune systems, that number rises to 25%.
One Guest Has Been Found Dead
Cameo Garrett, a woman who attended a conference at the Sheraton Atlanta on June 29th with her service organization, stopped responding to messages from family and friends on July 4th, after complaining of intestinal problems. She was found dead in her home on July 9th.
It is not yet known whether Garrett died of legionnaires’, or whether her death was related to the outbreak in any way, but several other members of her organization reported symptoms after the conference as well. Garrett’s father, without making any accusations, has called for an investigation to explain his daughter’s death and ensure all due steps are taken to prevent similar tragedies.
Is the Outbreak the Result of Negligence?
Since the discovery of the outbreak, the Sheraton Atlanta appears to have behaved responsibly, shutting down voluntarily, cooperating with all testing procedures, opening communication with former guests, and even providing support to displaced travelers and employees. The real question is whether the hotel failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the outbreak in the first place.
The CDC provides a helpful guide to industry standards and best practices for preventing legionnaires’ outbreaks. Legionella grows best in warm, fresh water, so hot tubs, showers, and fountains in sunny areas require particular attention. Important safety precautions include:
- Cleaning all water features regularly and watching for biofilm buildup
- Maintaining and frequently testing chlorine levels in pools and hot tubs
- Keeping boilers at high enough temperatures to kill legionella, while ensuring hot water is automatically mixed with cold water near the point of use to protect against scalds
- Having a plan of action for equipment failures, service interruptions, and other disruptions of normal water flow
Currently, more information is needed on what happened at the Sheraton Atlanta. Hopefully, testing and further investigation will reveal not just where the legionnaires’ outbreak originated, but whether more could have been done to prevent it, so victims of the outbreak can understand their options.
If you recently became ill after staying at the Sheraton Atlanta or suffered any negligence during your stay in a hotel, call The Stoddard Firm to discuss the latest info and the details of your case in a free consultation.