Disneyland Closes Cooling Towers Contaminated With Bacteria Causing Legionnaires' Disease

REUTERS/Fred ProuserPictured is the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

The management of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, closed two of its cooling towers after medical investigations confirmed these structures had developed strains of the bacteria that caused Legionnaires' disease.

The chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Dr. Pamela Hymel, said in a statement last week: "On Oct. 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaires' disease cases in Anaheim. We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria."

"These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down," Hymel said.

However, medical officials will need to inspect these structures first and certify that they are safe to use again.

The cooling towers were shut down following the confirmation of 12 cases of Legionnaires' disease that are being monitored by the Orange County health officials.

All 12 patients had been in Anaheim at some point from September up to the present. Out of the dozen, eight were visitors of Disneyland while one was reportedly an employee of the amusement park.

Meanwhile, one of the 12 patients who had not been to the amusement park has unfortunately died, health officials confirmed on Friday, according to the OC Register.

Mayo Clinic described Legionnaires' disease as: "A severe form of pneumonia — lung inflammation usually caused by infection. Legionnaires' disease is caused by a bacterium known as legionella."

The disease was named as such following a pneumonia outbreak in 1976 where most of the victims were members of the American Legion who were attending their annual convention that was set at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the time. Of the 182 patients, 29 died of the disease.

It took until 1977 for the medical investigators to learn that the reason they were having difficulty treating the illness was because they were dealing with a bacteria still undiscovered at the time. This was later on named Legionella.

The disease developed within two to 10 days after the patient's exposure to the legionella bacteria. The symptoms were headaches, muscle pains, chills, and a high fever that could go up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

"Outdoors, legionella bacteria survive in soil and water, but rarely cause infections. Indoors, though, legionella bacteria can multiply in all kinds of water systems — hot tubs, air conditioners and mist sprayers in grocery store produce departments." Mayo Clinic added.

Once a structure grows a large amount of legionella bacteria, it can spread through "spray from a shower, faucet or whirlpool, or water dispersed through the ventilation system in a large building."

In past outbreaks, it has been found that people aged 50 years and older were more susceptible to developing Legionnaires' disease. For example, in the current Anaheim cases, the patients' ages were between 52 to 94.