A Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Ocoee, Florida has potentially been traced back to an LA Fitness. Local health officials stated that all three reported cases held a membership to this specific gym, and had all attended it recently.
“It’s not common that we find a single common exposure or a cluster or a grouping of these cases in space and time,” said Alvina Chu, a program manager for Orange County’s Health Department, explaining how the LA Fitness was identified.
It is not the first Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Florida, nor will it be the last. The state reports anywhere between 250 to 300 cases a year. Orange County, where the suspected LA Fitness is located, sees about two dozen cases a year.
A silent menace with no vaccine
Legionnaires’ disease made headlines back in 1976, after an ill-fated American Legion convention in Philadelphia became the first major recorded outbreak of the infection. The strain of bacteria, identified as legionella, causes symptoms akin to pneumonia and the flu, anywhere from days to weeks after initial exposure. The first Legionnaires’ disease outbreak killed 29 of over 180 reported cases.
It is called a silent menace because, despite decades since it’s first terrifying headlines, it remains a disease that the average person knows little about. However, awareness is growing, both in the nature of the disease itself, and in how it spreads. As of today, there is no vaccine for the infection. Only medical treatment, at a hospital if needed, is certain to help the infected.
The disease is described as easily preventable with the right water treatment. Most cases are caused by the bacteria being breathed in from air conditioning systems or from water mist in showers. The bacteria grows well in relatively warm freshwater, and is found naturally occurring all over the world. Because of this, proper treatment of water reservoirs, and in air conditioning systems, are necessities.
However, despite the need for these things, neglect still does occur, and often times a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak follows.
The Ocoee LA Fitness claims it has followed all proper safety protocols with its water and air conditioning systems. The company has also released an official statement and warning to customers of this particular gym, in hope of calming worried minds.
Florida Legionnaires’ disease outbreak part of a growing trend
The past few years have seen multiple outbreaks occur all over the United States, gaining various levels of media attention. In California, the San Quentin State Prison saw a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak affect prisoners and attending staff. The source of the outbreak was traced to air conditioning towers on the rooftops of the prison.
In Flint, Michigan, an ongoing water contamination controversy has been connected to another Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the McLaren-Flint Hospital. Over 100 cases were reported, with at least 12 individuals dying from the infection. Inadequate water treatment facilities and procedures have been regularly cited as the direct cause of the situation.
For now, the Florida outbreak appears limited to three cases. But with an incubation period that can last over 20 days, and with so many visitors to the LA Fitness, there is no way to know how widespread this particular outbreak will be.