According to numerous reports, the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the JW Marriott, an upscale hotel in downtown Chicago, has claimed its third death. Meanwhile, there are a total of 10 confirmed cases related to the outbreak so far. The Chicago Department of Health, which sampled the hotel’s water system for Legionella, found positive results for samples taken from a decorative fountain in the lobby, men’s and women’s locker rooms, and a whirlpool in the hotel spa. Samples taken from showers from the guest rooms tested negative for the bacteria. All of these sites have been shut off from the public.
The latest victim, a 66-year-old Irishman who was on vacation with his wife to celebrate their 40th anniversary, was not a guest of the hotel; he only stopped by the JW Marriott briefly. His tragic death shows the potency of Legionella bacteria. Despite what was likely limited contact with the contaminated water (he was not a hotel guest), he still acquired the bacteria and became sick.
It is important for hoteliers to use caution and be proactive in properly maintaining their water supplies to avoid outbreaks of this type. By not doing so, they put not only guests at risk, but the general public as well. According to reports, the JW Marriott has estimated that 8,500 people stayed at the hotel during the timeframe of the outbreak. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of non-guests who may have been exposed. Surely many people, just like the latest victim, simply stopped by the hotel briefly while in Chicago. Including these people, the total population that may have been exposed to the bacteria, particularly given its presence in the hotel lobby, increases dramatically.
Jules Zacher is an attorney who focuses on Legionnaires’ disease litigation. His website, www.legionnairelawyer.com is a resource for information on Legionnaires’ disease, and related litigation.