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Health Department Study Links Legionnaires'
Cases to Epic Hotel in Miami

By Fabiola Santiago, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 01, 2010 --A study by the Miami-Dade County Health Department released Tuesday found seven confirmed and three "probable" cases of people who contracted the water-borne Legionnaires' disease after staying at the luxurious Epic Hotel and Residences last fall.

In addition, one man, a 57-year-old tourist from England, died in November.

Seven of the ill hotel guests have fully recovered and three others are in the process of recovering, county officials said. One of the guests was from Germany and another from Spain.

None were Miami-Dade residents.

The only connection between the tourists is that they stayed at the Epic Hotel, health officials said.

Their complex investigation focused on the water at the hotel and condominium development at 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way in downtown Miami.

While county health officials said they were not able to prove "100 percent" that the filtered water at the hotel caused the disease, Legionella bacteria was found in 23 of 25 cultures collected by the hotel's contractor. Similar results were found in the health department samples.

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a common bacterium known as Legionella that occurs naturally in the environment and thrives in warm water. Most people get Legionnaires' disease from inhaling the bacteria in the form of mist or vapor in showers or saunas.

"We did find Legionella in the water system of the hotel," said Vincent Conte, deputy director of epidemiology, disease control and immunization services at the health department.

The county investigation also found that the hotel's filtration system "basically dechlorinated the water [provided] from the county," allowing the bacteria to grow, said Samir Elmir, director of the health department's environmental health and engineering division.

But investigators stopped short of blaming the filtration system or confirming that the hotel, in its efforts to provide luxurious services, over-filtered the county water.

"I cannot comment on that," Elmir said.

The environmental and epidemiologic investigation was hampered by a lack of participation from the hotel guests and the fact that the patients, all out of state, were unavailable for further testing.

Only 6 percent of the 1,700 hotel guests, employees and residents queried answered the health department's questionnaire.

"We were unable to collect any cultures from any of the patients, so we were not able to genetically match cultures from the hotel," Conte said.

Health officials praised the hotel's owner and management for their quick response to the crisis and efforts to disinfect the water supply and system in the 54-story, 677-unit building opened in December 2008.

A health advisory issued by the county for the hotel and residencies after the illnesses were reported was lifted in December, and the county said the water could be used for normal activities.

Epic hotel spokesman Bruce Rubin said management did not want to comment on the county report.

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Miami Herald

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