Waterborne Legionnaires’ disease bacteria has killed two University of Washington Medical Center patients and closed a Memphis beltway hotel. UWMedicalCenter_406x250The UW Medical Center has diagnosed five patients with Legionnaires’ disease, including the two who died. In Memphis, six cases of the respiratory disease are linked to the now-closed La Quinta Inn at 2979 Millbranch Rd. The Shelby County Health Department ordered the hotel closed on Sept. 22 after receiving the laboratory confirmation for the first five individuals who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. First recognized in 1976, Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a type of bacteria usually found in water. It is contracted when the mist or vapor containing the bacteria is breathed in. Hot tubs, fountains and air conditioning units often help create conditions for it. A woman in her 50s, diagnosed Sunday, is the fifth UW Medical Center patient found to have the disease. The nearby Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue also has a patient diagnosed with it. King County health officials, however, say the cases are not related. la_quinta_inn_406x250Health officials in Memphis say anyone who stayed at the La Quinta Inn who is now experiencing coughs, shortness of breath, fever and muscle aches should contact their local health department. The symptoms are similar to pneumonia and often look the same on chest X-rays. The fifth Legionnaires’ case at UW came after the actions it took on Sept. 19 and 20 to install new filters on faucets and flush systems of chlorine. Legionnaires’ disease remains fairly common in the U.S., with 10,000 to 50,000 cases reported per year. Once exposed to the bacteria, disease symptoms will typically appear in two to 10 days. At higher risk are people who have had an organ transplant, older people, heavy smokers, anyone with a weakened immune system, those who indulge frequently in alcoholic beverages, and those with underlying medical issues or who are on drug therapies. Legionnaires’ is not spread by person-to-person contact and fewer than five people in every 100 exposed to contaminated water will develop symptoms. Antibiotics are usually used to treat it. Early treatment is most effective. The same bacteria can cause Pontiac fever, a flu-like illness that typically lasts two to five days. No deaths have ever been attributed to Pontiac fever. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)