The number of Legionnaires’ disease cases tied to an outbreak in Hampton, N.H., has risen to 14 while two residents of Nashua, N.H., have also been sickened by the illness, a state public health official said Saturday.
The two Nashua residents who fell ill have no connection to the string of Legionnaires’ cases in Hampton, said Jake Leon, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. One person sickened in Nashua contracted the disease out of state and the other didn’t have a ties to Hampton.
“It’s just a coincidence,” said Leon, adding that New Hampshire sees an average of 30 to 35 cases of Legionnaires’ disease annually.
Most people sickened by the illness in Hampton are believed to have been infected while on Ashworth Avenue between Island Path and M Street, a tourist spot near the ocean, the state said.
Officials closed the hot tub spas at the Sands Hotel and the Harris Sea Ranch Motel in Hampton as a precaution because the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ is known to thrive in those environments, the state said. The hotels remain open.
The people sickened in the Hampton outbreak became ill between June 14 and Aug. 24, the state said. An elderly person died of complications from the disease. Twelve people have been hospitalized.
Officials trying to identify the potential source of the bacteria have sent samples to a Centers for Disease Control laboratory in Atlanta for testing.
Preliminary results are expected in one to two weeks. Public health officials plan to provide an update on the outbreak on Tuesday.
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 more than 200 people and killed 34 because air conditioning vents spread the bacteria through 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 2 to 10 days after exposure, but state officials recommend that people stay vigilant for 14 days. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches.
Most healthy people who are exposed to the bacteria won’t contract the disease, but about 1 in 10 people who contract the infection will die from it, according to the CDC.
Two years ago, health departments reported about 6,100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States, the CDC said. The agency noted the illness is underreported and there may have been more cases.
Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics and often requires hospitalization. There is no vaccine.
People with increased risk of contracting Legionnaires’ include those over age 50, current and former smokers, and people with chronic lung disease. People who take drugs that weaken their immune system, such as chemotherapy, or suffer from underlying illnesses like diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure, are also at a greater risk.