State health officials investigating Legionnaires’ cases linked to Albert Lea hotel
Early evidence suggests source may be the spa; recent guests with undiagnosed symptoms should consult with their health care provider

Cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with an Albert Lea hotel are prompting state health officials to warn anyone who stayed at the hotel in late June to seek medical care promptly if they are ill.

Minnesota Department of Health investigators have identified two laboratory-confirmed cases so far among people from unrelated groups who were at the Ramada by Wyndham Albert Lea and spent time in the pool/hot tub area around the last weekend of June. These people became ill between late June and early July. One was hospitalized and has been discharged; one is still hospitalized. There are reports of additional people with this exposure who are experiencing illnesses that might be Legionnaires’ disease; MDH is continuing to investigate.

The disease is spread by inhaling the fine spray from water sources containing Legionella bacteria. It is not spread from person to person. The incubation period (time between exposure to the bacteria and the onset of symptoms) can be up to 14 days.

MDH investigators are working with the hotel to further determine what the source of the Legionella bacteria might be. At this time, early evidence and past experience suggests the source of the infections might be the hotel’s spa (hot tub). The hotel shut down the spa for maintenance on June 29, and the pool area is closed to guests at this time. MDH staff are working with hotel staff on recommendations to clean and decontaminate the spa and pool area.

Spas have been found in the past to be the source of Legionnaires’ outbreaks due to their temperature and ability to aerosolize the Legionella bacteria in small water droplets. CDC has guidance for operators of public spas to reduce the risk (Considerations for Public Hot Tub Operators).

MDH investigators said it is possible other cases with links to the hotel could still emerge. “If you spent time at the hotel between June 22 and June 29 and are ill now, or if you develop illness in the two weeks following your visit, please see a health care provider to be evaluated for possible Legionnaires’ disease,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at MDH.

MDH has asked health care providers to watch for any additional patients with symptoms that might indicate Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial pneumonia that can be severe, so prompt diagnosis and antibiotic treatment is important. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and coughing. Legionella infection can be diagnosed with a test called the urine antigen test (which detects Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, the most common strain of Legionella and the one involved in the recent cases). Legionella testing of people who might have been exposed but are experiencing no symptoms is not recommended.

Most people exposed to Legionella bacteria do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. People over the age of 50, current or former smokers, or those with certain medical conditions including weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease, cancer, diabetes, and kidney or liver disease are at increased risk. If you have concerns about possible exposure, please contact your health care provider.