Two cooling towers shut down after a Legionnaires disease outbreak sickens 12
Disneyland theme parks are destinations for travelers all over the world. It’s no surprise that some diseases and infections get passed around at these parks. However, nobody goes to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA expecting to get sick from the equipment. It’s precisely this that Disneyland, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Orange County Health Care Agency believes has happened. A Legionnaires disease outbreak has been potentially traced to a pair of cooling towers in the theme park.
The cases were originally discovered in October, affecting a total of twelve people. Orange County health officials narrowed in on the possible outbreak location after it was discovered that nine of the twelve people had visited Disneyland in Anaheim. The other three individuals had visited Anaheim at some point in that time span. An employee of the Disneyland was also infected.
One dead from complications with “additional health issues”
Highlighting the dangers of a Legionnaires disease outbreak, ten of the twelve infected were hospitalized. One patient has died, apparently suffering health complications outside of the Legionnaires infection. Now, health officials are scrambling to determine the full extent of this outbreak, and whether or not more people have been affected.
A Legionnaires disease outbreak can be difficult to properly identify due to a number of factors. On average, most healthy people show no symptoms. Additionally, Legionnaires’ is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia, and therefore may not get the proper attention it needs.
The victims in this outbreak ranged in age from 52 to 94. As people age, or as an immune system is compromised by other infections, coming down with Legionnaires’ after exposure is more likely.
Where the Legionnaires disease outbreak likely started
A pair of water towers at the New Orleans Square Train Station have been identified as a possible source for the outbreak. After the cases were discovered by the CDC, they informed the OCHCA, who in turn informed Disneyland. An immediate review was conducted of the park’s water treatment systems; when the towers were discovered to have elevated levels of Legionella bacteria, they were shut down. They were restarted briefly as part of the decontamination process on Nov. 5, but were shut down again two days later.
Once the water towers are confirmed to be within safety standards, they will likely go back into operation. Of course, many questions need to be asked about how this could have happened, and whether or not it could have been prevented.
Were there adequate safety measures in place?
Both towers were located over 100 feet from any guest-accessible area. Ideally, this would limit direct exposure to any water mist that could be carrying Legionella. However, weather conditions and possible faults with the water towers could allow the bacteria to thrive.
Cooling towers in air conditioning systems are the frequent source of a Legionnaires disease outbreak. For example, the 1976 Philadelphia outbreak, where the disease was first identified, was ultimately traced down to the air conditioning system of a hotel building. In the years that followed, water treatment practices throughout the world saw extensive reform and reinforcement. However, this hasn’t completely eliminated the possibility of outbreaks.
Neglectful water management led to the Flint Water Crisis. Lead poisoning made the headlines, but less known were the nearly 100 cases of Legionnaires. And all around the US, neglect of various water systems has resulted in infections.
Of course, it isn’t always neglect. The reality is that Legionella is found in fresh water supplies around the world, and that includes the water found in air conditioning systems, plumbing, hotel swimming pools. Filters and other water management solutions can limit the bacteria greatly. However, if that same filter is overdue for replacement, it could allow the bacteria to thrive. People with compromised immune systems are at risk because of these critical oversights.
It is too early to say why the water towers had elevated levels of the bacteria. Disneyland parks receive thousands upon thousands of visitors each day; it is in any public venue’s interest to have the absolute best water management standards in place. Time will tell what future investigations reveal.