This story has been updated.
Twelve guests at the Sheraton Atlanta recently tested positive for Legionnaires' illness, prompting the town's hotel to close its doors. The Georgia Department of Health reports 63 cases are "possible."
Here's what you need to know about the disease:
According to the Atlanta-based Atlanta Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionnaires & # 39; s a serious form of lung infection (or pneumonia) caused by thin, microscopic Legionella bacteria, which naturally exist in saltwater but can grow in man-made settings if the water is not properly maintained. Each year, 8,000 to 18,000 people in the United States are hospitalized by Legionnaires & # 39 ;.
How does it spread?
Legionella can be hazardous when they are grown in painless man-made settings such as hot tubs, potable water showers, cooling water systems or decorative springs. Bacteria do not usually spread from person to person. Instead, it spreads through small drops of water that glisten in the air as people breathe on them. The CDC notes that in rare cases, a person may still breathe in Legionella while drinking water and "it goes down the wrong tube."
What are the signs and symptoms?  The signs and symptoms of Legionnaires & # 39; s include cough, muscle aches, shortness of breath, headache and fever.People older than 50, smokers or previously smokers and anyone with a chronic lung disease or weakened immune system may be at increased risk for the disease.
What do I do if I think I have Legionnaires & # 39;
If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms of pneumonia and believe you may be exposed to Legionella experts recommend seeing a doctor right away. When you see your doctor, make sure you mention any recent use of the bath, whether you have stayed away from home recently or visited the hospital for the last two weeks.
How does diagnosis and treatment work?
To test for Legionnaires & # 39 ;, your doctor is likely to perform a chest x-ray, requiring a urine test and a lab test that involves obtaining a phlegm sample.
Antibiotics are usually prescribed if you test positive for the disease, which kills the Legionella bacteria inside your body.
While most cases of Legionnaires' treatment are successfully treated, about one in 10 people with chronic illness will die from complications, usually due to lung failure.
The CDC has an excellent toolkit available regarding the protection of Legionnaires & # 39 ;. Some great advice:
- Make sure the hot bath or spa you use is properly maintained. You can be infected with Legionella by simply breathing in steam or mist from a contaminated hot tub. Maintenance involves regular checking of the disinfectant levels and pH of your hot tub. . According to the CDC, the appropriate levels include: 2-4 parts per million chlorine, 4-6 ppm bromine and 7.2-7.8 pH levels. If you notice an improper reading, notify the hot tub operator or owner immediately.
- No hands-on tests? If you do not manage tub maintenance, ask for the latest health inspection. Your operator should also respond to how often disinfectant and pH levels are checked.
For more prevention tips, download this toolkit.
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