North Carolina

Fatal lung-disease outbreak linked to hot tub display at NC fair, officials say

A deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has been linked to a hot tub display at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair, health officials said Thursday, and the facility has suspended rentals.

Since the fair, which took place between Sept. 6 and Sept. 15 in Fletcher, 75 people have been hospitalized with the disease, and one person has died, the Charlotte Observer reported.

As of Wednesday, there are 124 reported cases of the disease in people who attended or worked at the fair, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said in a release.

The majority of the cases have been in Bumcombe County, and six have been reported in South Carolina, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Findings show that those diagnosed with the disease were “much more likely to report having walked by the hot tub displays” at the Davis Event Center during the fair than those who were not diagnosed, the department said.

Legionella bacteria were found in one water sample taken at the event center, according to the department.

The findings suggest “low levels of Legionella present were able to grow in hot tubs” or another source at the event center, the department said.

“Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but it does not tell us how so many people were exposed at this event,” Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist said in the release. “To get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever, you have to breathe in Legionella in aerosolized water, meaning small droplets like mists or vapors.”

People can get the disease by breathing “small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is not spread between people.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches, and usually begin two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, the CDC says.

Officials are continuing to investigate, the NCHHS says, and rentals of the event center have been suspended.

“The decision has been made to suspend the rental of the Davis Event Center at this time while we review and implement mitigation plans for the facility,” the department said in the release. “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.”

Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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