Disneyland has shut down two cooling towers at its theme park after a dozen cases, including one death, from Legionnaire’s disease – a serious respiratory illness caused by the Legionella bacteria – were reported in Anaheim.
Of the 12 cases of Legionnaire’s disease that emerged in September, nine were among people who visited Disneyland in September. The other three are Orange County residents who didn’t visit Disneyland but live or travelled to Anaheim, reported Orange County Health Care Agency spokeswoman Jessica Good, Friday night in response to earlier Voice of OC questions.
Ten of the 12 people who became ill were hospitalized. One of the 12, who had other health issues and did not visit Disneyland, died. Good’s email statement didn’t indicate if any of those who contracted the disease were related to each other.
No other cases of the disease have been reported since September.
According to Good, during the week of October 20-26 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified Health Care Agency staff of the Legionnaire’s disease cases that occurred in September.
The county agency issued an order Nov. 8 requiring Disney to take the towers out of service until they are shown to be free from contamination. Disney independently decided to take the towers out of operation the day before, Good said.
The two cooling towers are located in a backstage area behind the New Orleans Square train station area of the theme park.
Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in an email Saturday that Disney was informed by the county Health Care Agency of the outbreak on October 27. The park and a contractor tested the cooling towers and found elevated levels of Legionella bacteria.
“These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down,” said Hymel. “We have proactively shared this information with OCHCA (Orange County Health Care Agency) and given our actions. They have indicated there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities.”
Test results for the towers could take up to two weeks.
Although the Health Care Agency sent alerts to medical providers and other public health departments to help identify other people who have contracted Legionnaire’s disease, the agency issued no public press releases or statements because “there was no known, ongoing risk associated with this event,” Good said.
The Legionella bacteria can cause respiratory illness and pneumonia, and especially in older people or those with existing health problems, can result in death. Of the twelve reported cases in Anaheim, patients ranged in age from 52 to 94.
The bacteria commonly is found in water systems and poses no threat to humans at low levels. But in large concentrations, often due to stagnant or improperly sanitized water systems, the bacteria can be transmitted through inhaling contaminated water vapor.
People who have contracted Legionnaire’s disease are not contagious.
There have been 55 reports of Legionella disease in Orange County residents through October of 2017; 53 were reported for the entire year of 2016; and 33 in 2015, according to Good.
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