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1 dead in Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Napa County

1 dead in Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Napa County 02:15

NAPA – One person has died after at least a dozen people became infected in an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Napa County, health officials said.

According to health officer Dr. Karen Relucio, at least 12 county residents have been diagnosed and hospitalized with the bacterial infection since July 11. One person has died from the outbreak, who was only identified as a person over the age of 50 and had risk factors for severe disease.

As of Wednesday, officials said three Legionnaires' patients are in the hospital. The people who have been infected range in age from 58 to 80 years old.

Legionnaires' disease is contracted by breathing in aerosolized water containing Legionella bacteria, which can grow in warm water. The aerosolized water can come from cooling towers providing air conditioning to large buildings, along with hot tubs, cooling misters, decorative fountains and plumbing systems.

All of the people diagnosed live near the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel in Napa, where health officials found Legionella bacteria in a rooftop cooling tower.

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Chopper 5 over the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel in Napa. CBS

They noted none of the people who were infected visited or stayed inside the hotel.

"Our joint investigation team continues to work with Embassy Suites staff to remediate the source of exposure," Relucio said. "Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we must continue to investigate other cooling towers and water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source."  

Health experts say there could be an explanation for that as the bacteria may have been sprayed into the air by a fan inside an AC unit.

"It is airborne through the water source, so any water that's contaminated that's aerosolized then can be breathed in. And people that are at higher risk, having underlying medical conditions can develop Legionnaires' disease as a result," Relucio said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

The hotel has since taken the cooling tower offline. Officials are continuing to identify additional sources of the bacteria.

"Although Legionnaires' disease is a rare infection, this is a reminder that the bacteria that cause it are common in nature and can be found in man-made water systems," Relucio said. "This means it's very important for owners and managers of water systems that can create aerosols to take steps to prevent Legionella from growing and spreading in water systems."

Napa County is working with the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health to investigate where else the bacteria may be living.

Health officials urged anyone living or working in Napa who have flu-like symptoms, cough, fever or difficulty breathing should contact their healthcare provider as soon as possible.

People at high risk for Legionnaires' disease include those 50 and older, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung disease or compromised immune systems. The disease is not spread from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics if found early.

To prevent the spread of the bacteria, residents are being urged to flush faucets and showerheads that have not been used recently. Devices that use water, such as humidifiers, respiratory therapy devices, water heaters and hot tubs, should be cleaned and disinfected.

Sara Donchey contributed reporting.

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