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Team Heads for Lamar To Investigate Legionnaires’ Outbreak

November 4, 1989

LAMAR, Colo. (AP) _ State health officials headed here on Friday to see if a hotel was harboring a rare bacteria after an elderly high school reunion participant was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, officials said.

Sixteen people contracted pneumonia after attending the Lamar High School reunion for 1941 and earlier graduates at the Best Western Cow Palace Inn on Sept. 22-24. Three of the people died, said Dr. Richard Hoffman of the Colorado Department of Health.

Health officials confirmed on Thursday that one of the individuals had Legionnaires’ disease. The person is recovering. Laboratory tests of the other 15 cases should be available next week.

Cow Palace owner Dave Edeleman agreed to close the 100-room inn for a week beginning Monday to allow the health officials to gather samples of air and water, and check ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems.

Investigators will include epidemiologists Dan Rodrigue, Yvonne Boudreaux, Jane McCannon, Jim Beebe and Lyle McKenzie, said Alice Lykins, a spokesman for the health department.

The team could begin work as early as Saturday, she said. Investigators will be looking for signs of Legionnaires’ disease, Hoffman said.

″The only element the 16 cases had in common was attendance at the reunion activities at the hotel,″ Hoffman said.

″Not only is a combination of environmental factors required,″ he said. ″There also must be a congregation of people who would be at increased risk - the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, cancer or those with chronic heart or lung conditions.″

Legionnaires’ disease, first identified in an outbreak in 1976 in Philadelphia, primarily affects adults older than 50 years, especially smokers or people with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, health officials said.

Symptoms include pneumonia, fever, headache, appetite loss, muscle aches, coughs and abdominal pain.

The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pennsylvania American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia killed 34 people.

Since the Lamar pneumonia outbreak was reported, health department employees have contacted nearly 250 people from 21 states who attended the reunion, to see if they had similar symptoms. Those who reported symptoms were given blood and urine samples, officials said.

Hoffman said organizers of 12 other groups that stayed at the hotel between Sept. 7 and Oct. 15 have been contacted, but no illnesses were reported.

The bacterium believed to be responsible is found in soil and grows in water, including water left in air conditioning ducts, storage tanks and rivers, health officials said.

The disease is not passed from person to person and is treatable with antibiotics. About 15 percent of cases in an outbreak are fatal, Hoffman said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates 25,000 people a year get the disease.

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