Questions linger after Legionnaires’ disease outbreak

NET Health says no bacteria found in first round of testing at fairgrounds
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Updated: Nov. 12, 2019 at 11:08 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Questions linger nearly two weeks after officials announced an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease within the City of Tyler.

Symptoms show themselves within two weeks of exposure, according to the CDC website. The fair ended on Sept 29, more than 40 days ago.

“NET Health continues to evaluate the entirety of the East Texas State Fair, and of all possible sources of exposure,” said Terrence Ates, public information officer and director of community outreach for the Northeast Public Health District, when reached via email on Nov. 12. “The Tyler Water Utilities is responsible for performing water tests of Harvey Hall on a regular schedule, to ensure that all water made available to the public is safe.”

Test results on samples collected at the fairgrounds have not found a cause for the outbreak, and a new round of testing is underway, Ates said. No other specific information linking the cases to the East Texas State Fair has been released.

John Sykes, CEO and president of the East Texas State Fair, is troubled by the lack of information.

“I got a phone call that said we have six people, that later turned to supposedly seven, who have contracted Legionnaires’, and I’m immediately stunned and shocked,” Sykes said. “And then they said, ‘the one thing they have in common is that that they attended the fair.’ Well, so did 250,000 other people, and so did my staff, and we were everywhere.”

Seven confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease and five suspected ones were reported by NET Health on Oct. 31.

Legionella is a bacterium that is spread through tiny water droplets in the air, so small that people unknowingly breathe them in. Exposure to the bacteria can result in Legionnaires’ Disease - a lung infection similar to pneumonia, and one out of every 10 people who contract it die, according to the CDC.

“We’re looking everywhere. Where in the world could someone possibly have breathed in water? So far we’ve analyzed every single one of those sources and have come up with zero, that’s what I am being told,” Sykes said.

On Nov. 8, a press release noted that sampling was continuing, and that Net Health “continues to partner with state health agencies regarding the five possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease.”

The same day that press release was sent, one of those persons diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease died, according to Net Health and Susan Gutierrez, the widow of Ruben Gutierrez.

The booth where Gutierrez stayed during the fair is in a corner of Harvey Hall, by a wall near the bathrooms.

Meanwhile, information released to the estimated 250,000 who attended the fair has been limited. The public has been advised to see a doctor if they attended the fair and feel ill.

“Individuals who have exhibited possible symptoms of exposure still need to visit with a doctor if they have not done so,” Ates said.

Meanwhile, a second round of water samples have been sent to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia for analysis.

Ates did not know how many samples had been submitted to the CDC when asked, and said it’s possible for more than one test can be run on each sample. The cost of processing those samples is covered by the CDC, he added.

KLTV(Source: Sarah Thomas/KLTV)

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