At least 133 confirmed cases of the disease can be traced back to the state fair. Ninety-four cases led to hospitalizations, while eight people who attended the fair also contracted Pontiac fever.
According to an October 18 press release by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the disease sources include “hot tubs and diffusers that had been on display in the Davis Event Center and a cooling fan that had been located outside the Davis Event Center during the fair.”
Legionnaires’ is a type of pneumonia - a lung infection - caused by Legionella bacteria. “People can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidently swallow water into the lungs containing Legionella,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease grows in water systems like showerheads and sink faucets, cooling towers, hot tubs that aren’t drained after every use, decorative fountains, hot water tanks and large plumbing systems, the CDC reports.
The disease often leads to symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches. The disease can be fatal for eldery people, former smokers or those with compromised immune systems.
Pontiac fever, on the other hand, is a “milder infection than Legionnaires' disease,” the CDC explains on its website. Symptoms typically exhibit themselves a few hours to three days after exposure to the bacteria and usually last for less than a week.
On Friday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that one of the six samples obtained at the Davis Event Center, where parts of the fair took place, tested positive for the Legionella bacteria. However, the samples were taken between 12 and 22 days after the fair ended and “might not represent conditions during the fair.” The health department is thus still completing additional testing.
“Preliminary findings indicate that people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were much more likely to have visited the Davis Event Center while at the fair and much more likely to report having walked by the hot tub displays compared to people who did not get sick,” the health department said in a statement.