The Happiest Place on Earth just made news in November for all the wrong reasons. Disneyland recently shut down two contaminated cooling towers after health officials discovered the towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria.
Eleven separate cases of Legionnaires’ disease have surfaced in the Anaheim area. The victims were infected sometime between late August and October. As of writing this, two have died from complications with the disease, though neither of these victims had visited Disneyland.
The towers in question were located backstage in the New Orleans Square Train Station more than 100 feet from guest-accessible areas. Eleven of the fifteen persons infected had spent time at Disneyland. One of the infected is a Disneyland “Cast” member.
Jessica Good, an Orange County Health Care Agency Spokeswoman said the majority of the patients visiting Disneyland “indicates a pattern but does not identify that specific location as the common source of infection for all cases. Our investigation is ongoing.” This is compounded by four of the fifteen victims had not visited the Disney theme park.
The genus Legionella is a pathogenic, gram-negative bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is an illness caused by Legionella pneumophila causing a type of atypical pneumonia. While its namesake might sound archaic, it actually acquired its name in July of 1976, when a strange pneumonia ran rampant among attendants of an American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia. There were one hundred and eighty-two reported cases and twenty-nine deaths. The cause of the outbreak was finally uncovered the following year as a previously unknown bacteria which was subsequently dubbed Legionella.
Transmission of the disease comes from aerosolized water and/or contaminated soil containing the bacterium. It cannot be transmitted person to person, but on occasion has been known to be transmitted by contaminated water and surgical wounds. The disease thrives at temperatures between twenty-five and forty-two degrees Centigrade. This means that the bacteria can proliferate in cooling towers, evaporation condensers in air conditioning units, and hot water tanks. Legionella is also incredibly tenacious, as they are able to survive within water containing intracellular parasites such as amoebae.
While the illness can be quite deadly, having a mortality rate of anywhere between five to thirty percent, it is not an incredibly contagious disease. Fewer than five percent of people who come in contact with the disease actually contract it. Most who do contract Legionnaires’ disease are over the age of fifty, with preexisting health conditions, are current/former smokers, of have immune systems that have been compromised by immunosuppressive drugs.
To identify these Legionella, Hardy Diagnostics offers the G07 BCYE (Buffered Charcoal Yeast Extract) Agar for Legionella spp. for clinical and environmental specimens.
This is a developing story and updates will be posted as they are available.