Nevada health authorities are investigating an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that has been reported at the posh 4,000-room Aria Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Four guests who stayed at the resort were treated for the bacteria-borne disease, but many more may have been exposed from June 21 to July 4.
Stephanie Bethel of the Southern Nevada Health District told the Associated Press that this sometimes deadly form of pneumonia had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that the six guests had recovered.
The hotel sent letters to guests who had stayed at the Aria during the two-week period, saying that high levels of the bacteria legionella had been detected in several guest rooms. Recent additional testing showed no detectable levels.
In the past, air-conditioning systems, showers and hot tubs had been the suspected culprits in larger Legionnaires' outbreaks, but Nevada authorities have not yet determined the cause in this case.
"Legionella is a bacteria that lives in water and loves warm, wet environments," said Dr. Mary Nettleman, professor and head of the department of medicine at Michigan State University. "Unfortunately, people also like warm, wet environments, like hot tubs."
Last February, 200 partygoers at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Calif., came down with flulike chills and high fevers. Four attending the DomainFest Global Conference there went on to develop a mild form of the disease, Pontiac fever.
David Castello was at that conference and described uncontrollable chills and a 102-degree fever: "I went from zero to not a good place in 15 to 20 minutes. It was like somebody flipped a switch."
Health authorities later suspected the mansion's whirlpool had been to blame for the spread of the bacteria.
Legionella transmission can occur through aerosols generated by air injected in the whirlpool, according to Dr. Amir Afkhami, assistant professor in the global health division at George Washington University School of Public Health.
"Basically, the bubbles that soothe can also become bubbles of infection by giving Legionella a piggyback ride into our respiratory system and allowing it to infect our lungs," she said.