Hot tub exhibit linked to 124 cases of Legionnaires' disease at Mountain State Fair
Posted October 3, 2019 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2019 4:06 p.m. EDT
Fletcher, N.C. — The state Department of Health and Human Services says 124 cases of Legionnaires' disease and Pontiac fever contracted at the Mountain State Fair are likely linked to a hot tub exhibit at the event.
One person has died so far due to the outbreak. Public officials said there is no indication of ongoing exposure after the fair, which ran Sept. 6-15 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher, south of Asheville.
"Preliminary findings indicate that people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were much more likely to have visited the Davis Event Center while at the fair and much more likely to report having walked by the hot tub displays compared to people who did not get sick," a DHHS report states.
The hot tub displays were held at the Davis Event Center.
"People who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were also much more likely to have visited during the latter half of the fair compared to people who did not get sick," the DHHS report said. "These early findings are from an ongoing study comparing information gathered through surveys of people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease with similar information gathered from people who attended the fair but did not get sick."
Officials said Legionella bacteria were found in one sample of water taken from the event center. Other results are still pending.
“Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but it does not tell us how so many people were exposed at this event,” Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, said Thursday.
Legionnaires' disease is contracted by inhaling the bacteria through drops of water, mists or vapors in the air, Moore said.
"We don’t really know the answer to that question yet as far as the source of legionella that would have gotten into the hot tub and whether that was something from the water onsite or whether that was something that was already present in let’s say a filter or something else like that," Moore said. "I think the important point is that it is a very common bacteria, the legionella bacteria, is very common. So anyone operating a hot tub in a setting like this or any other, anything else that’s capable of water in a setting like this, need to take precautions to reduce the risk of legionella."
No other activities will take place at the Davis Event Center until the investigation is complete and the building is treated.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said steps are being taken to "minimize water aerosolization opportunities on the grounds" to limit the risks of legionella bacteria growth.
"While we all feel confident that the facility is safe, we want to take these proactive mitigation measures to reassure the public and our employees," the agency said in a statement.