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Health Department Continues Probe into Source of Legionnaire's Desease at Orlando Area Hotel;
Poorly Maintained Air Conditioners, Hot Tubs and Pools Being Investigated

By Walter Pacheco, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 25, 2008 --The spa at the tourist-area hotel under investigation for Legionnaires' disease reopened today, state health officials said.

A dozen or more rooms at the Quality Suites hotel near Universal Studios remain closed while the health department continues its investigation. Two tourists staying at the hotel contracted the potentially dangerous disease over a week ago and are recovering at home.

One other victim remains hospitalized. All of the infected guests are out-of-state residents who stayed at the hotel during the last week of February and early March.

"It was a matter of making sure the chemicals [in the spa] were corrected and a filter changed," health department spokesman Dain Weister said. "Some rooms are still closed because of air-conditioning issues, including the rooms of the infected guests."

The Health Department hasn't determined the source of the infection.

Legionnaires' disease is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person; however, it is a potentially dangerous infection that people can catch after breathing in water droplets that are contaminated with the bacteria Legionella. Symptoms include fever, chills and cough.

Most healthy people who get infected recover, but those with chronic conditions and the elderly are vulnerable to more serious cases or death.

Possible sources of the bacteria are poorly maintained air conditioners, hot tubs and pools.

The hotel at 7400 Canada Ave. voluntarily shut down on March 14 and moved its guests to another hotel. It later reopened and hotel staff has been changing air-conditioning filters, cleaning the coils and doing air-quality checks, Weister said. Most of the approximately 150 rooms have been inspected and deemed safe for guests. The hotel's pool reopened last week.

A total of 155 cases of the disease were reported across the state in 2007, state health records show. Orange County had 13 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease last year.

The last outbreak of Legionnaires' in Florida was in early 2006, when three people developed the disease and one of them -- an 82-year-old woman only identified as an out-of-state resident -- died after staying at the Seagarden Inn in the Daytona Beach area.

An investigation concluded that an indoor spa was the most likely source of infection.

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To see more of The Orlando Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.OrlandoSentinel.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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