Legionnaires outbreak hot tub, Local health officials suspect Davis Center.
Health officials are closer to identifying the source of Legionella bacteria, which infected at least 124 Mountain State Fair attendees with the potentially life-threatening Legionnaires’ disease.
“We do have indication from our epidemiological study … that having walked by the hot tubs is linked to Legionnaires’ disease,” said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, on a media call on Oct. 3. Legionnaires’ patients are also more likely to have visited during the “latter half” of the fair, which ran from Sept. 6-15.
Two hot tub vendors had displays at the Davis Center during the fair.
Samples from one hot tub are being processed, but the DHHS hasn’t been able to sample other hot tub displays present at the fair.
“If the hot tubs had been drained, or drained and disinfected, it’s possible that we would not pick up any Legionella, even if it had been present during the fair,” Moore said during the call. “Legionella has to be in water to survive.”
One sample from the Davis Center has tested positive for Legionella, according to the preliminary results of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ investigation.
Water samples were taken from several locations throughout the Davis Center. Only one tested positive for the bacteria — a sample from a “low traffic” women’s bathroom, Moore said.
Although contaminated pipes have caused other outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, officials said they don’t believe that this was the source of the Mountain State Fair outbreak.
Other parts of the Davis Event Center water system were tested and did not test positive, but those results are not final, Moore reiterated. A bathroom sink alone couldn’t have been the source of the outbreak, he said, because sinks don’t produce significant aerosolized water and a slight majority of the patients are men.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services declared the WNC Ag Center safe for occupancy on Sept. 27 after health officials “determined that there are not currently any significant sources for aerosolized water,” which is how Legionnaires’ disease is spread.
However, on Oct. 2, the Ag Center canceled a gun and knife show slated to occur at the Davis Center this weekend.
Matt Buchanan, the director of the WNC Ag Center, said the Department of Agriculture has “voluntarily decided not to rent the Davis Event Center” while it undergoes “an aggressive and comprehensive mitigation plan.”
“This is being done out of an abundance of caution and to reassure event attendees, fairgoers and Ag Center employees that the center is safe for occupancy,” Buchanan said.
After the Oct. 3 DHHS press conference, Buchanan acknowledged the closure was in direct response to the sample that tested positive for Legionella in the Davis Center’s women’s bathroom.
That sample hadn’t been processed by the time of the Asheville Quilt Show, which was held in the Davis Center on Sept. 25-27.
Buchanan and Moore said they stand by their original statement that the Davis Center was safe for occupancy, which was made before samples from the site and its infrastructure were processed.
Buchanan said he’s not yet sure what form the mitigation plan will take. For now, the showers and sinks at the Davis Center — the only source of aerosolized water that officials have identified in the permanent infrastructure — are off limits.