Disneyland in Anaheim, California, shut down two of its cooling towers Tuesday after Orange County health officials discovered cases of Legionnaires’ disease in several people who had visited the theme park in the last two months.
According to Legionella.Org, “Legionnaires' disease is a severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia It’s caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila found in both potable and non-potable water systems. Each year, an estimated 10,000 to 18,000 people are infected with the Legionella bacteria in the United States.”
This type of excessive lung infection is caused by inhaling the bacteria and not spread by person-to-person contact. Symptoms of the disease typically show up within two to 10 days.
According to Mayo Clinic, "People who have been affected by the disease often show signs and symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, chills, fever that may be 104 F (40 C) or higher, cough (accompanying sometimes by mucus and blood), shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, delusions and other mental disorders etc."
Disneyland has shut down two bacteria-contaminated cooling towers after Orange County. In this photo, English-Irish boy band The Wanted performs 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town' while taping the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade TV special at the Magic Kingdom park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Dec. 6, 2013. Photo: Getty Images/ Mark Ashman
Although the disease primarily targets the lungs, it is also known to infect open wounds and other vital organs of the body such as the heart. People who are particularly susceptible to the disease are older adults, smokers, and people with weakened immune systems.
Most cases of the infection start when people inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria. The source of the contaminated water can be hot tubs and whirlpools on cruise ships, grocery store mist machines, cooling towers in air conditioning systems, decorative fountains, swimming pools, physical therapy equipment, water systems in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes.
The sources of the infection, in this case, were two cooling towers of the world-famous amusement park that was contaminated with the bacteria.
“On Oct. 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaires’ disease cases in Anaheim. We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported. “These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”
"To date, no additional Legionella cases have been identified with potential exposure in Anaheim after September," Jessica Good, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Care Agency, said, CNN reported. "There is no known ongoing risk associated with this outbreak."
The towers, in question, are located in the backstage area near the New Orleans Square Train Station, each more than 100 feet from the areas accessible to visitors.
Twelve people between the ages of 52 to 94, who spent time in Anaheim, developed the disease, including nine people who had visited Disneyland in September before developing the illness. An employee working in the facility also got infected with the same disease.
Ten of them were hospitalized, out of which one person (who had not visited Disneyland) reportedly died. The other nine are suffering from “additional health issues” at present.
After conducting routine testing a month earlier, Disneyland authorities detected elevated levels of Legionella in the two cooling towers and performed a thorough disinfection of the towers at the time. On Nov. 1, more testing and disinfection was performed and the towers were brought back into service on Nov. 5.
Disney took the towers out of service again on Tuesday. Soon after, an order was issued by the health agency requiring preventing Disney from reopening the towers before health officials verified that they were free from Legionella contamination.