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What Happened in Vegas? Legionnaires’ Disease.

On Behalf of | Aug 29, 2011 | CDC, Chicago, Healthcare, Occupational Illness, Safety |

Anyone who vacations in Las Vegas knows something about taking chances. One of the biggest appeals of visiting Vegas is the potential for anything to happen. But, while everyone hopes lady luck smiles on them, realistically the most you’ll probably return home with is a lighter bank account and a need for sleep. Odds are good, however, that no one expects their vacation souvenir to be a potentially deadly respiratory illness. Yet, recently the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada was linked to six cases of Legionnaires’ disease among guests visiting the resort.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia caused by the bacterium legionella. What sets this infectious disease apart is that rather than being spread via person-to-person contact, Legionnaires’ disease is spread through legionella-contaminated water vapor or mist. A person who breathes in this mist or vapor is at risk at developing the disease, or the lesser flu-like illness Pontiac Fever. Legionnaires’ was first identified in 1976 after a mysterious illness struck a group of American Legion members attending a conference at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Over 200 people were treated for the illness, and 34 deaths were reported. Later that year, the disease and its cause were identified, as well as the realization that it was to blame for many previously misdiagnosed illnesses and deaths. Additionally, for those at the American Legion convention, the method of contamination was identified — the hotel’s air conditioning system.

Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks often occur in large, public structures such as hotels and hospitals where intricate water and air conditioning systems are used, as well as in mist-producing areas such as public hot tubs, pools or showers. While it’s not impossible for this illness to appear in individual homes, it possible that a large buildings’ more complex cooling and water-storage system creates a more favorable breeding ground for the bacteria. The bacteria and its resultant diseases are preventable through the use of proper methods for cleaning and disinfecting water systems and areas, yet sadly, outbreaks are still occurring.

Similarly, the recent outbreak at the Aria Resort has been blamed on elevated levels of legionella in the hotel’s water system that went undetected until the reported illnesses. Guests who stayed during a two-week period in June and July were notified of the potential for infection, and the building’s water was treated to remove the bacteria. Luckily, no fatalities occurred. Sadly, this is not always the case as proven during similar outbreaks at other public establishments. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Legionnaires’ results in death anywhere from 5%-30% of the time. Fatalities most commonly occur among the elderly or among those whose health is already compromised. As a result, when outbreaks do originate in hospitals, fatality rates significantly increase. Employees of infected sites also face a greater risk of illness due to repeated exposure, particularly maintenance crews who maintain water and air-conditioning equipment.

The CDC reports that every year 8,000-18,000 people in the United States are hospitalized as a result of the illness. Sadly, however, Legionnaires’ disease is often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or unreported, which can extend the length and severity of an outbreak. If you have been affected by this disease, contact your public health department immediately. Additionally, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and/or injuries. Employees infected by Legionnaires’ disease while on the job also may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Contact an Illinois personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your rights.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation attorney that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit

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