Christmas Mountain guests diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease

March 19, 2019

Three people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease within two weeks of stays at Christmas Mountain Resort, and one person died.

“There is no determination tying the death or illness to the presence of Legionella (the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease) at Christmas Mountain,” said Tara Hayes, MSN, RN, director/health officer, of the Sauk County Health Department.

Hayes said the investigation of the source of the bacteria is ongoing.

“Legionella is a bacterium that is found naturally in freshwater environment,” she said. “It can also grow and spread in human made water systems.”

But an unidentified company spokeswoman for Bluegreen, the company that operates Christmas Mountain, said. “After testing, we found that the water supply in certain units had been affected and, subsequently, tested positive for the bacteria.”

“Christmas Mountain is working with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Department of Health Services, and the Sauk County Health Department to conduct an environmental assessment to collect water samples and is working on a remediation and water management plan with a professional consulting company,” the spokeswoman said.

Hayes said the remediation includes installing “point of use” filters on every fixture in every unit at the resort. Hayes said the filters decrease exposure to less than 1 percent and the filters are 99 percent effective. However, she cautioned that ’those with chronic health conditions, the very young, elderly, and poor immunity are at higher risk.”

The Bluegreen spokeswoman, “There is no conclusive evidence that they contracted the Legionella bacteria during their stay at the property.”

However, prospective guests are being told about the disease and everyone who stayed in the affected units has been notified.

“We proactively inform all guests that have reservations at the property,” she said. “Our doors are open, and our accommodations are safe. However, we offer all of our guests the opportunity to modify or cancel their reservation.”

The Centers for Disease Control website says, “Legionnaires’ disease is a serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Legionella bacteria. Legionella can also cause a milder illness called Pontiac fever. People can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water into the lungs containing Legionella. Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. However, people 50 years or older, current or former smokers, and people with a weakened immune system or chronic disease are at increased risk.”

The CDC website also said, “Health departments reported about 6,100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States in 2016. However, because Legionnaires’ disease is likely underdiagnosed, this number may underestimate the true incidence., and about one in 10 people who gets sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die.”

The CDC considers the presence of two or more people getting sick with Legionnaires disease to be an outbreak.