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After Legionnaires' disease outbreak in western NC, prevention on minds of spa dealers at Raleigh home show

Posted October 4, 2019 4:06 p.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2019 6:20 p.m. EDT

— While new kitchens and bathrooms might be on the minds of most people attending the Downtown Raleigh Home Show this weekend, public safety is the focus of event organizers and some vendors.

State public health officials said Thursday that scores of cases of Legionnaires' disease reported in western North Carolina last month were likely linked to a hot tub display at the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, south of Asheville.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia. People are exposed to it by breathing water droplets contaminated with the Legionella bacteria.

One person has died, and more than 125 others have experienced respiratory problems in the western North Carolina outbreak.

Although state officials haven't yet confirmed exactly how the bacteria spread at the Mountain State Fair, they are advising vendors at the Downtown Raleigh Home Show and similar events to make sure anything that makes water vapor is sanitized.

Home show manager Chiara Renella Brooks said Friday that precautionary measures are already in place, and the show has never had a problem.

"Typically, [exhibitors] test the water throughout the day, and they also provide me with the results of their test strips," Brooks said. "There’s absolutely zero reason anybody would have a fear of coming to the Raleigh home show."

Rod Adams has been in the hot tub business for 20 years and said he’s never heard of anyone getting Legionnaires' disease from a contaminated hot tub.

"If you’re properly sanitizing and properly maintaining your hot tub, it’s just not an issue," Adams said.

In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 213 cases of Legionnaires' disease in North Carolina – about 2 cases per 100,000 people.

Although rare, the disease can spread quickly if warm, stagnant water is present for the bacteria to grow, such as hot tubs or water misters that aren’t cleaned correctly.

"Due to what happened at that fair up in the mountains, obviously we’re gonna take some precautionary measures," Adams said, adding that he added extra chlorine to the water in his display hot tubs Friday so people at the show will know the water is safe.

Real estate agent Jenne Kendziora said the outbreak last month doesn’t make her worry about her own safety as she wanders the Downtown Raleigh Home Show at the Raleigh Convention Center.

"It’s alarming, I guess you could say, but I don’t think it’s a thing you would run into very frequently, right? It seems like maybe a one-off thing," Kendziora said.

Most healthy people don’t catch Legionnaires' disease, but older people and those with weakened immune systems or breathing problems can be more susceptible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who contract it need to be hospitalized. It can be usually be treated with antibiotics, but about 10 percent of cases are fatal.

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