Napa County isn’t the only part of California where Legionnaires’ disease was lurking this summer.
Before 12 people were sickened by the rare, water-born illness earlier this month in Napa Valley, a Long Beach couple was hospitalized after using a hotel spa while visiting family in San Jose in late June.
As ABC7 reports, Rita and Dan Miles contracted the disease while staying at Aloft San Jose Cupertino, and were then hospitalized for days after returning home from their trip.
“I resisted going to the ER room thinking that hey, I’m just really tired. This will pass,” Dan told the station. “And quite frankly, I really don’t remember from Wednesday on.”
Symptoms included exhaustion, upset stomachs, fevers and more in the days prior to hospitalization. On Saturday, July 2, Rita noticed her husband’s difficulty breathing and called 911.
An x-ray revealed Dan’s lungs were completely white, leading healthcare workers to initially suspect COVID.
“People kept saying, ‘I know he’s testing negative for COVID. It’s gotta be COVID. These are COVID lungs. These are COVID lungs,'” Rita said. “And in fact, it’s not. It’s bacteria from the Legionellosis. And it’s bacteria that just grows in your lungs.”
The respiratory infection got its name from a 1976 outbreak in Philadelphia at a Legionnaire Convention, where a contaminated hotel air-conditioning system spread the bacteria amongst 221 people, causing 34 deaths.
Legionella bacteria flourishes in warm water and can spread through man-made water systems, like cooling towers, pools, hot tubs, and plumbing systems. Although transmitted to humans who breathe in tiny bacteria-carrying water droplets, it’s not passed between people.
Rita was hospitalized for five days, while Dan was there for nine, needing a ventilator for four of those days.
A joint Santa Clara County Public Health Department and Santa Clara Department of Environmental Health investigation tested water in the pool, hot tub, and spa areas of the hotel, ultimately confirming the presence of Legionella in the spa filter.
Rita and Dan credit their three daughters for initially suspecting the hotel as the source of the illness, and proceeding to alert both Santa Clara County Public Health officials and staff at the Aloft San Jose Cupertino.
“After receiving a complaint regarding a possible exposure to Legionella at the Aloft San Jose Cupertino pool and spa areas, DEH immediately launched an investigation,” departments said in a joint statement.
“DEH inspected the pool and spa areas, which are the areas permitted by DEH. An environmental health specialist collected samples from the hotel’s pool, spa, filling spigots, and recirculation equipment as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance in consultation with the California Department of Public Health. Of the samples collected at the hotel, a sample collected from the spa filter confirmed the presence of Legionella, which was confirmed in test results.”
The spa will remain closed until fully decontaminated. Santa Clara Public Health stated that “no additional cases connected to the hotel have been reported,” though the county has recorded a total of nine cases in 2022.
Editor’s Note, Aug. 18: An earlier version of this story miscited the source of the bacteria that caused the July outbreak. As of now, the source of the outbreak is unclear.
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