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Calif. health officials find source of Legionnaires’ disease after 2 deaths

Contra Costa Health officials say water and swab samples from a Richmond spa contained high levels of legionella bacteria


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By Katie Dowd

SAN FRANCISCO — After two people died of Legionnaires’ disease, Bay Area officials say they have found the source of the outbreak.

On Aug. 4, Contra Costa Health officials say they were informed by local hospitals of two deaths from Legionnaires’ disease. Upon investigation of the decedents’ last known whereabouts, health officials said they determined both had recently been to Zen Day Spa on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond. They moved to shut down the spa while conducting the investigation into its water sources for potential legionella bacteria.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe and sometimes deadly form of pneumonia that is usually transmitted via water sources, like air conditioning systems or hot tubs. Symptoms can manifest between two and 14 days after being exposed and include headache, fever and chest pain. It gets its name from a 1976 Philadelphia convention of the American Legion. In the days that followed, nearly 200 people became sick and 29 died. After a massive investigation by the Center for Disease Control, it was determined that the air conditioning system at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, which hosted the convention, had spread the bacteria through the air.

On Monday, county health officials confirmed that the outbreak was likely linked to Zen Day Spa. “Laboratory testing results shows that water and swab samples collected from a Richmond spa contained high levels of legionella bacteria, making it the likely source of Legionnaires’ disease among multiple customers,” the county said in a statement.

The spa is closed until further notice as the county has declared the business a public nuisance.

“Beyond the two people who died with lab-confirmed Legionnaires’ disease, CCH has as of Aug. 21 identified two other people who visited the business and had lab-confirmed Legionnaires’ disease, and two people who reported becoming ill after visiting the business, whom investigators suspect had Legionnaires’ disease,” the county said in a statement.

The spa must have professional cleaning done and remove its hot tub, the county says, and it can only reopen once Contra Costa Health inspects the premises again.

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