By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online
Disneyland had to shut down two of its cooling towers recently because of the presence of Legionella bacteria, which can cause a fatal disease and had been infecting park guests.
“The Orange County Health Care Agency says 12 cases of the bacterial illness were discovered about three weeks ago,” reported CBS Los Angeles. “All the patients lived or had spent time in Anaheim, and nine had visited Disneyland in September. Their ages ranged from 52 to 94.”
Though there seems to be a high correlation between the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease and the amusement park, one patient who had died had not visited Disneyland.
“We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” Dr. Pamela Hymel, the chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, wrote in an email to CBS. “These two towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”
As of late last week, it was still a mystery how those patients who had never visited the park became infected as well.
“Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster said officials had reviewed tests of bacteria levels in the city water supply prior to and since the outbreak and hadn’t detected any issues,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Plus, [Orange County health agency spokeswoman Jessica] Good said the Disneyland cooling towers hadn’t been ruled out as the cause for the 15 cases. The mist they release travels into the atmosphere and can spread, she said.”
The mystery comes as Legionnaires’ is experiencing a surge, nationally as well as near Disneyland specifically.
“The number of Legionnaires’ cases nationwide each year is more than four times higher than it was in 2000, according to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” the Times reported. “In Orange County, more than 50 people were infected with Legionnaires’ disease last year, compared with 33 the year prior. Experts are unsure what is driving the increase.”
Image credit: "Disneyland," Ron Thorp, 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/