Fifth case of Legionnaires' disease confirmed as CDC team heads to Hampton Beach
By JASON SCHREIBER Union Leader Correspondent
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, addressed concerns about Legionnaires' disease raised during an informational meeting at the Hampton Police Department Monday afternoon. (Jason Schreiber /Correspondent)
HAMPTON — State health officials on Monday confirmed a fifth case of Legionnaires’ disease associated with an outbreak in an area of Hampton Beach and announced that investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will arrive this week to help search for the source of the bacteria causing the illness.
At an informational meeting at the Hampton Police Department, state and local officials provided an update on the outbreak and tried to reassure concerned business owners that their message to the public isn’t to avoid Hampton Beach.
The meeting was called after the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health Services announced Saturday that four people had contracted Legionella pneumonia, which is commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease and is a potentially serious bacterial pneumonia.
According to Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, a fifth person was also infected and it’s possible that more cases could be confirmed.
“There are a number of other individuals under investigation,” he said.
Officials said the infection is usually spread by inhaling water droplets in the air that are contaminated with the bacteria. While they still haven’t confirmed the source of the bacteria in the recent outbreak, they said sources can include showers, hot tubs, faucets, cooling towers in air conditioning systems, misters and decorative fountains.
Officials stressed that the illness isn’t spread from person to person or by drinking or swimming in water.
Those with the illness are believed to have acquired it at the end of July or early August in the area of Ashworth Avenue between Island Path and H Street.
Some business owners who attended the meeting expressed concern about the outbreak and the state’s warning that people who are at highest risk of infection should consider postponing their visit to the section of Ashworth Avenue where the disease was mostly likely spread.
Steven Chasse owns the Grayhurst Hotel, which is located at 11 F St. and said he’s has some cancellations and is worried that other guests will stay away during the final weeks of the summer season. He and others voiced a concern that many people interpreted the state’s message as a warning to avoid Hampton Beach altogether.
“They think if they come to Hampton Beach they’re going to get Legionnaires’ disease and they’re going to die,” he said.
Police Chief Rich Sawyer, who is also the town’s emergency management director, insisted that no officials urged people to stay away from Hampton Beach.
But he acknowledged the challenge of questions the outbreak might raise among members of the public.
“This is a very valid concern for the business community,” he said.
A team of CDC investigators is to arrive this week. In the meantime, officials urged people to take the warning seriously, especially those who are at increased risk of getting sick: people 50 and over; current and former smokers; people with chronic lung disease; weakened immune systems; and those with other health problems like diabetes and kidney and liver failure.
Officials said it’s important to note that the illness is treated with antibiotics and that most people who get sick make a full recovery. However, they provided statistics showing that one in 10 people die from the disease. Chan said no deaths have been reported with the recent outbreak.