We are learning more about the victims of the Legionnaire's Disease outbreak from the JW Marriott hotel in Chicago. Three people have died as a result of a Legionnaire's disease outbreak at the JW Marriott in Chicago, and another seven have been or are ill from the disease. Health officials are reporting that all of the victims stayed at the Marriott hotel in downtown Chicago between July 16 and August 15.
CBS News has reported that a Florida physician died in the outbreak. Initially his family had been told that he had died of pneumonia, and indeed the disease is a form of pneumonia. When the family received a letter from the JW Marriott hotel explaining that the doctor might have been exposed to legionella bacteria when he stayed at the hotel, officials performed an autopsy and discovered that the man in fact had contracted Legionnaire's Disease.
A British newspaper is reporting that an Irish man is the third person to die from the Legionnaire's Disease outbreak. Thomas Keane, a 66-year-old plumber from Limerick, Ireland, had traveled to the United States with his wife Olive to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
As I have reported in the past, Legionnaire's Disease is contracted when water droplets with the bacteria become airborne. Mr. Keane's tragic death is an example of the way the disease is contracted. Although Mr. Keane never even stayed at the hotel, he stopped off there briefly, and apparently breathed in the water vapor that contained the legionella bacteria. While officials connected Mr. Keane's illness with the outbreak, many victims, particularly those who only visited the hotel but did not actually stay there, may never be identified with the outbreak.
Health officials compared testing of the legionella strain found in the victims to water samples and swabs taken from the hotel. According to their testing, the same legionella bacteria that made the victims sick was found in the men's locker room, women's locker room, hotel pool and whirlpool in the spa, and in the fountain located in the lobby. The fact that the bacteria bred in so many locations raises serious questions about whether the hotel was properly cleaning the areas, maintaining them with proper chemicals, and keeping them at the right temperature. As a lawyer on these types of cases, my experience has been that some hotels consider these amenities necessary to attract guests, but pay little attention to maintaining and cleaning them once the guest has chosen the hotel.
Health officials are only reporting on the victims who wound up with Legionanire's Disease. From my experience as a lawyer on Legionnaire's disease lawsuits, I can say that the number of people who develop actual, full-blown Legionnaire's Disease is normally much smaller than the number who develop Pontiac Fever. People who develop Pontiac Fever become very ill and experience flu-like symptoms, but their cases are not life-threatening, as cases of Legionnaire's Disease can be. One of my clients described the experience as "like the worse flu you ever had in your life."
The British paper says that officials have heard from 100 people who are reporting Legionnaire's Disease-type symptoms. The disease can take up to two weeks to develop, and early symptoms look like the flu. Victims run high fevers, and have a cough, chest pain or shortness of breath. The disease can progress to a very severe form of pneumonia, and up to 30% of victims will die.