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Environmental Health Team Assesses N.C. State Fair Legionnaires' Risk



Update 10/16:  On the heels of the Legionnaires' outbreak linked to September's Mountain State Fair in Fletcher,  health officials are taking proactive measures as the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh prepares to open tomorrow.  BPR’s Helen Chickering reports.

State Health officials deployed a team of environmental health specialists who conducted assessments at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh Tuesday. They’ll return multiple times during the fair to help protect visitors and vendors from the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria.  The team is focusing on equipment or displays that may aerosolize water, such as hot tubs and fountains.  Legionnaires' is contracted by breathing in infected water droplets.    

One hundred forty one people developed the respiratory illness after attending the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, 3 people have died.  Early results from a state health investigation finds most people who got sick walked by hot tub displays in an indoor facitilty.   I'm Helen Chickering, BPR News. 

Update 10/14:  State health officials have confirmed a third death in the Legionnaires' outbreak  connected to September's  Mountain State Fair in Fletcher.   Ninety-four people have been hospitalized. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed 140 cases of Legionnaires’ disease or  the milder Pontiac Fever in North Carolina.  Most of the cases were in residents of Buncombe and Henderson counties, with 10 cases reported outside of the state. To protect the privacy of the families, health officials say the decedents’ personal information including location of residence, ages and genders will not be released.

Last week health officials released details from their preliminary investigation into the source of the outbreak.

The interim report outlines the timeline and process that the Division of Public Health, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, other local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used throughout the investigation.   

The preliminary epidemiologic and environmental findings suggest that exposure to Legionella bacteria occurred in the Davis Event Center of the WNC Ag Center, particularly near the hot tubs and during the last five days of the fair. Hot tubs are a well-established source of aerosolized water exposure and have been associated with previous Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks nationally and internationally. These results highlight the importance of caring for and maintaining equipment that can aerosolize water.

There were no other significant sources of aerosolized water at the WNC Ag Center and no other ongoing potential sources of exposure identified. 

This report provides preliminary information from the investigation to date. Additional information will be provided when the environmental and epidemiologic investigations are complete.   

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment. These bacteria can become a health concern when they grow and spread in human-made building water systems like hot water tanks, cooling towers of air conditioning systems, decorative fountains and hot tubs or spas that aren’t properly maintained. Approximately 200 cases are reported annually in North Carolina. If you experience symptoms consistent with pneumonia, please contact your health care provider.

More information about Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires' disease can also be found on the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/legionella/index.html and on the DPH website at https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/cd/diseases/legionellosis.html

For additional information or to report possible cases, please call your local health department or the NCDHHS Division of Public Health at (919) 733-3419. In Buncombe County, call BCHHS Communicable Disease at (828) 250-5109. In Henderson County, please call (828) 694-6019.


Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
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