Second person dies from Legionnaires’ outbreak at North Carolina fair, officials say

A second person has died as a result of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease connected to a hot tub display at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair, public health officials say.

There have been 134 confirmed cases of people sickened by Legionella bacteria at the fair, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Eighty-eight people were hospitalized from the bacteria.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a bacteria that attacks the lungs, similar to pneumonia. People cannot transmit the bacteria to one another. It’s contracted by breathing in water vapor or aspirating on water that has the bacteria in it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The annual fair was held at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher, near Asheville, Sept. 6-15.

Most of the reported cases have been in Buncombe and Haywood counties, DHHS said. Public health officials said more cases have been reported and the number of confirmed cases will likely continue to rise.

“Legionnaires’ disease is a serious illness which can lead to complications and death, especially in older individuals or those with underlying conditions,” state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said. “We send our sincerest condolences to the families of the two people who have died and to all those who have been affected by this outbreak.”

State health officials say the investigation points to a hot tub display in the Davis Event Center during the last five days of the fair.

“Hot tubs are a well-established source of aerosolized water exposure and have been associated with previous Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks,” the health department said.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ and Pontiac fever, a lesser form of the illness, occur naturally in the environment, DHHS said. North Carolina has an average of about 200 cases of Legionnaires’ a year.

“These bacteria can become a health concern when they grow and spread in human-made building water systems like hot water tanks, cooling towers of air conditioning systems, decorative fountains and hot tubs or spas that aren’t properly maintained,” the health department said.

Here’s the breakdown of cases by county, according to state officials:

  • Buncombe County: 49
  • Burke County: 1
  • Caswell County: 1
  • Cherokee County: 1
  • Gaston County: 1
  • Granville County: 1
  • Haywood County: 12
  • Henderson County: 33
  • Jackson County: 1
  • Madison County: 6
  • McDowell County: 3
  • Mecklenburg County: 4
  • Mitchell County: 2
  • Polk County: 1
  • Rutherford County: 3
  • Transylvania County: 3
  • Union County: 1
  • Watauga County: 1
  • Yancey County: 1
  • Out of State: 9
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