A widespread outbreak of Legionnaires' disease has killed one person and sickened possibly dozens of others who were all guests at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel. The hotel evacuated all its guests on July 15 and remains closed as of press time.
Public health officials say a dozen guests had tested positive for Legionnaires', a bacteria that can cause a severe form of pneumonia. But according to the attorney filing a lawsuit Monday, hundreds more may have been exposed.
By the time guests were evacuated in mid-July, 49-year-old Cameo Garrett was already dead. An autopsy showed she had coronary issues and Legionnaires' disease. Garrett went to a conference at the Sheraton a week before she died – just like Germany Greer who said he became so sick at one point he didn't even know his own name.
"I couldn't sleep. Didn't want to eat. Couldn't drink because everything was horrible. I was delirious," Greer said.
Greer, a 67-year-old photographer, was hired to document the same hotel conference. At one point his fever hit 104.5. Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital kept him for four days.
Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia. People get sick inhaling microscopic water droplets containing the legionella bacteria. It is not contagious.
"This is one of those bugs that lives out in the environment amongst us and on occasion it gets into a man-made water system, contaminates it, and it can be very hard to get rid of when that happens," said infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 Legionnaire's victims will die. Georgia health officials are now investigating 75 Legionnaire cases – 12 are confirmed and 63 are probable. All of them were Sheraton Atlanta guests.
In a statement, the hotel offered its "deepest sympathies to all those affected" adding "a thorough cleaning of the hotel's entire water distribution system has been completed…including…scrubbing and chlorination."
But attorney Chris Stewart, who represents 40 Sheraton guests with confirmed or presumptive cases of Legionnaires', says other guests scattered around the country may also have the disease.
"Apologies won't do it in this situation," Stewart said. "This is a massive nationwide problem. People don't know they're sick yet with Legionnaires' disease. I mean we literally get a new client every single day."
Stewart said the potential population of exposed people is in the hundreds. The Sheraton Atlanta won't reopen until test results show the threat is over. Greer, who has been sick for five weeks, says he's still only 65% healthy.
"This is the twilight zone. This is completely different than anything I've ever experienced in my life," he said.
State health officials are investigating when Sheraton guests were exposed to the disease, but they're looking at a window lasting more than a month. The hotel says it will remain closed until at least Wednesday.