Fletcher, N.C. — The NC Department of Health and Human Services says 124 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever contracted at the NC Mountain State Fair are likely linked to a hot tub exhibit at the event.
NCDHHS is sharing findings from an ongoing investigation to determine how so many people were exposed during the Sept. 6-15 event at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher, NC. The cases of Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever (a milder form of infection) had been reported in people who attended or worked at the fair.
One person has died so far due to the outbreak. Public officials said there is no indication of ongoing exposure after the fair.
A report by the NCDHHS said “Preliminary findings indicate that people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were much more likely to have visited the Davis Event Center while at the fair and much more likely to report having walked by the hot tub displays compared to people who did not get sick.”
The hot tub displays were held at the Davis Event Center. The report also states “People who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were also much more likely to have visited during the latter half of the fair compared to people who did not get sick. These early findings are from an ongoing study comparing information gathered through surveys of people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease with similar information gathered from people who attended the fair but did not get sick.”
Officials said Legionella bacteria was found in one sample of water taken from the event center. Other results are still pending. The release also states “taken together, these early findings suggest that low levels of Legionella present were able to grow in hot tubs or possibly some other source in the Davis Event Center leading to exposure through breathing in aerosolized water that contained the bacteria.”
“Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but it does not tell us how so many people were exposed at this event,” said Dr. Zack Moore, State Epidemiologist. “To get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever, you have to breathe in Legionella in aerosolized water, meaning small droplets like mists or vapors.
“We don’t really know the answer to that question yet as far as the source of legionella that would have gotten into the hot tub and whether that was something from the water onsite or whether that was something that was already present in let’s say a filter or something else like that, so we don’t have that information yet.
“We don’t really have that information yet. I think the important point is that it is a very common bacteria, the legionella bacteria if very common, so anyone operating a hot tub in a setting like this or any other, anything else that’s capable of water in a setting like this need to take precautions to reduce the risk of legionella and some of those things we spoke about earlier and our environmental health section has developed some very sort of brief clear guidance to minimize those risks, understanding that there may be legionella presence in the water that’s used to fill a hot tub or left over from some other use.”
No other activities will take place at the Davis Event Center until the investigation is complete and the building is treated. The NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released this statement regarding the outbreak and treatment:
“The decision has been made to suspend the rental of the Davis Event Center at this time while we review and implement mitigation plans for the facility. This is being done out of an abundance of caution and to reassure event attendees, fairgoers and Ag Center employees that the center is safe for occupancy. Additionally, in collaboration with public health, we have taken steps to minimize water aerosolization opportunities on the grounds, as this is considered the means by which the Legionella bacteria is contracted. While we all feel confident that the facility is safe, we want to take these proactive mitigation measures to reassure the public and our employees.”