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FOR RELEASE: March 22, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Legionellosis Outbreak Confirmed

The Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma City-County Health Department have confirmed that a cluster of upper respiratory illnesses occurring among several persons in Oklahoma City last week for a home-schooled basketball tournament is due to a legionellosis infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Diseases that can result from this bacterial infection include Legionnaire’s disease, a severe form of infection in which persons develop pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a milder illness that does not result in pneumonia. Legionellosis infection is acquired by inhaling mists from a water source that contains Legionella bacteria. The disease cannot be spread from person to person.

More than 6,000 players, coaches and family members, representing 240 teams from throughout the nation, participated in the Oklahoma City tournament last week. Thus far, only two teams, one from Houston and one from Indiana, have reported respiratory illnesses among players and/or family members. Of those with illness, at least 13 have tested positive for Legionella.

State and city-county health officials suspect that persons who have reported illness have likely contracted Pontiac fever. Symptoms reported by those who have become ill include rapid onset of fever, chills, fatigue, headache and muscle aches, without pneumonia, which are indicative of Pontiac fever. Persons who develop Pontiac fever generally recover without treatment in two to five days.

Health officials are interviewing representatives from other participating teams to determine any additional reports of similar illness. Health officials are also investigating potential sources for the outbreak, including hotels where the players and family members stayed, as well as tournament venues. Currently the agencies are conducting environmental sampling at the Comfort Suites at I-40 and Meridian, the Oklahoma City hotel where the Houston and Indiana teams were guests. Health officials suggest that any guests who stayed at the hotel from Friday, March 12, to the present, who develop fever and respiratory symptoms, should contact their health care provider, as well as the Oklahoma State Department of Health at 405/271-4060.

Laboratory testing for those who became ill is ongoing, and Oklahoma health officials are working with hospitals in the Houston area and other out-of-state hospitals to identify any other persons who may have become ill after returning home from the tournament.

Legionella bacteria can be found in any type of water system, as well as in the environment in creeks, ponds and potting soil. The bacteria are prevalent in warm stagnant water, such as those found in most plumbing systems, hot water tanks, water in cooling towers, evaporative condensers of large air conditioning systems, and hot tubs. Home and automobile air conditioners are not sources of Legionella bacteria.

About nine cases of legionellosis are reported each year in Oklahoma. Antibiotics such as erythromycin are effective for treating Legionnaire’s disease; Pontiac fever requires no specific treatment.

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Fact Sheets on Legionnaire’s disease and Pontiac fever may be found at:
http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/legionaires'_disease.htm

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