Update: 10/9 State Health officials say there are now more than 130 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease tied to last month's Mountain State Fair in Fletcher. The family of a man who allegedly contracted the respiratory illness after attending the event spoke publicly on Wednesday. Blue Ridge Public Radio's Helen Chickering reports.
Brandy Bregler, the fiancé of 40 year old Michael Petrey of Candler says the family attended the fair on the last day (September 15) and soon after Petrey got sick and landed in the hospital,
"And they said he had double pneumonia," says Bregler, " I went to work the following day and that’s where I heard about Legionnaire's at the fair, and I called Mike and said tell the doctors to check you for Legionella. He did and Wednesday the tests came back positive."]
Petrey is still in the hospital. The family has hired the attorneys who represented victims of an Atlanta outbreak. The attorneys spoke at the press conference and said at this point they are not announcing a lawsuit, but are launching an investigation.
Meantime, State Health officials are still investigating the source, but say early findings show most confirmed cases entered the Davis Event Center and walked by hot tub displays. Legionnaires’ is contracted when people breathe in contaminated air droplets. I’m Helen Chickering reporting.
On October 3rd, State Health officials released preliminary findings of their investigation into the source of the Legionnaires' outbreak at the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, September 6-15. State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore told reporters during a phone conference that fairgoers who were diagnosed were much more likely to report being in the Davis Event Center - an indoor facility.
"The second thing that has come out of the data so far is that people who were diagnosed were much more likely to be walking by hot tub displays when in the Davis Event Center, " says Dr. Moore, "Then a third finding we think is relevant is that people who developed Legionnaires disease attended fair in latter half of fair compared to people who didn’t get sick."
Dr. Moore says health investigators have taken samples from the building and some of the vendors including one of the two hot tub displays, and they are still waiting for results. One sample taken from the sink in a ladies room at center turned up positive.
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,” said Dr. Moore. “To get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever, you have to breathe in Legionella in aerosolized water, meaning small droplets like mists or vapors.”
Taken together, health officials say these early findings suggest that low levels of Legionella present were able to grow in hot tubs or possibly some other source in the Davis Event Center leading to exposure through breathing in aerosolized water that contained the bacteria; however, this is an ongoing investigation.
Health officials visited the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center on Sept. 25 and Sept. 27 — after the fair had ended — and did not identify any significant sources of aerosolized water on the site. Very little aerosolized water is created from hand washing sinks, toilets and other currently operating water sources at the Agricultural Center, meaning the risk of exposure to Legionella is low.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shared the following information:
"The decision has been made to suspend the rental of the Davis Event Center at this time while we review and implement mitigation plans for the facility. This is being done out of an abundance of caution and to reassure event attendees, fairgoers and Ag Center employees that the center is safe for occupancy. Additionally, in collaboration with public health, we have taken steps to minimize water aerosolization opportunities on the grounds, as this is considered the means by which the Legionella bacteria is contracted. 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."