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    After N.H. outbreak, a primer on Legionnaires’ disease

    New Hampshire officials are investigating whether hot tubs in two hotels near Hampton Beach might be linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 12 people, including an elderly adult who died from complications of the disease.

    Officials closed hot tubs at the Sands Hotel and the Harris Sea Ranch Motel in the popular vacation area because of the risk of spreading bacteria while the inquiry is underway. The hotels remain open.

    “We are working hard to identify the exact source of these infections,” said Lisa Morris, director of the state’s Division of Public Health Services, in a statement Friday. “Even though the information is preliminary, we want to allow the public to make informed decisions about visiting the area and their activities in the area.”

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    Here is a primer on Legionnaires’ disease.

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    The disease is a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling mist or small drops of water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. This pathogen was discovered in 1976 when it infected 200 people and killed 34 because air conditioning vents spread the pathogen throughout the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia during an American Legion convention.

    The disease cannot be spread through person-to-person contact, nor by drinking contaminated water.

    Pneumonia-like symptoms show up two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, but state officials recommend that people stay vigilant for 14 days. Symptoms include:

     Cough.

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     Shortness of breath.

     Fever.

     Muscle aches.

     Headaches.

    Most healthy people who are exposed to the bacteria won’t contract the disease, but one in 10 people who contract the disease will die from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is also investigating the outbreak.

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    Fewer than 20,000 cases of the disease are reported in the United States each year, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics and often requires in-hospital treatment. There is no vaccine for the disease.

    People with increased risk of contracting Legionnaires’ include:

     Those 50 years or older.

     Current and former smokers.

     People with chronic lung disease.

     People who take drugs that weaken their immune system, such as chemotherapy.

     People with underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure.

    CDC says the disease can be prevented by keeping up maintenance of drinking-water systems, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and cooling towers.

    Allison Hagan can be reached at allison.hagan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @allisonhxgan.