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Possible hot tub legionella outbreak – U.S.

The hot tub is still believed to be the source of the outbreak, even though water tests clean.

NORTH PORT — Tests for Legionnaires’ disease conducted by the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County found a positive culture for the bacteria in a hot water heater in the fitness area of the clubhouse at the IslandWalk at the West Villages development.

Tests on the common pool and spa area came back negative, health department spokesman Steve Huard said, but the spa is still believed to be the source of the Legionnaires’ outbreak that was first reported Feb. 23.

“It just shows us that the chlorine that could have been added before we were able to test negated the tests for the Legionella,” he added. “Our epidemiological investigation leads us to the spa, even to this day.”

Tests of other water sources, including exposed irrigation ponds, also came back negative.

Dr. Ahmed Farooq, an infectious disease physician at Venice Regional Bayfront Health, diagnosed the first case, then determined that the IslandWalk hot tub was the common denominator when he diagnosed the second case.

Both the pool and hot tub were closed that day.

The exact number of people who have contracted Legionnaires’ disease is not available.

Legionella bacteria occurs naturally, but can grow rapidly under the right conditions.

“Above 140 degrees is ideal to ensure Legionella doesn’t have a favorable environmental growth,” Tom Higginbotham, environmental health director for the department, said.

The health department believes the affected water heater was malfunctioning.

There are no standards for routine monitoring of commercial water heaters such as the one at IslandWalk, but Higginbotham recommends that it should be once monthly.

The Centers for Disease Control also has published guidelines for institutions to follow to minimize the risk of Legionella growth.

The suspected occurrence of Legionella in the spa and the confirmed finding in the water heater are two separate cases, since there is no interconnection between those two water systems.

Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person. Instead, the water-borne pathogen can be inhaled by someone, if the water becomes aerosolized.

Higginbotham said Castle Group, the management team at IslandWalk, said the faulty water heater would be replaced.

Since the Legionella tests came back negative for the pool and spa, the health department has given Castle Group permission to reopen those amenities.

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