15 de dez. de 2011

CDC ties five cases of Legionnaire's disease to Frenchman's Reef and Frenchman's Cove


By JOY BLACKBURN (Daily News Staff)
Published: December 13, 2011
Virgin Islands Daily News

ST. CROIX - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked five past cases of Legionnaire's disease - reported between March 2010 and August 2011 - with stays at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort and Marriott's Frenchman's Cove, prompting remediation work to the resorts' water systems.
The V.I. Health Department has been "working closely" with a team of CDC specialists to monitor the remediation efforts at the resorts, after an investigation into the five past cases, according to a statement the Health Department released Monday.
The illness was found in stateside residents who had been guests at the resorts, said Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster. They required hospitalization but have since recovered, she said.
There have been no reports of employees affected at either site, according to the Health Department statement.
The statement indicates that Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Beach Resort has hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of the affected areas and treated the water system. Test results show no existence of Legionella bacteria, although the Health Department statement said the test results have not yet been evaluated independently by the CDC.
Health had asked the resorts to notify those who could potentially be affected by the bacteria: guests and employees, Bedminster said.
The properties asked for an extension on a deadline that had been set, and it was granted, but the deadlines passed last week without the notification to guests and employees going out, Bedminster said.
She did not know if, after the deadline, the properties had made the requested notifications, she said.
The hotel provided The Daily News with a written statement that did not address guest notification:
"Marriott takes hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously. As soon as we were notified of the possibility of the presence of Legionella bacteria we immediately began to work with the USVI Department of Health (DOH) to address the situation. The Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resorts hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of affected areas and the treatment of the water system.
"The latest test results taken after the implementation of these measures show no existence of Legionella bacteria in the samples tested. We have complied with the recommendations provided by the DOH, and we have successfully addressed the issue at the resort. The DOH has allowed the hotel to remain fully open for business and welcome our guests."
The Daily News spoke with Marriott Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa by phone and asked for comment on the Health Department's assertion that the resort did not make the notifications it was supposed to make by the deadline.
Gonzalez would not answer the questions unless they were in writing. The Daily News has a policy against submitting questions in writing because written Q and A stifles and slows follow-up and response.
The resort underwent a major renovation during the summer, closing May 3 and reopening on Oct. 6.
The Health Department's statement said that Frenchman's Cove has hired a consultant, and a "major threshold" in its remediation efforts is set to start this week.
Legionnaire's disease is a pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria, which lives in warm water supplies, said Dr. Lauri Hicks, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. The bacteria that causes the disease does not pass from person to person.
"It really requires exposure to water aerosol that contains Legionella," she said, Exposure may occur from showering or with time spent in a whirlpool or hot tub where the bacteria that leads to Legionairre's disease is present, Hicks said.
The CDC informed the Health Department in October of the five Legionnaire's disease cases among past guests at the resorts, and the Health Department asked for the agency's help in investigating.
From Oct. 18 to 22, CDC specialists conducted testing, and the properties were alerted about the possible Legionella contamination, Bedminster said.
On Nov. 3, the Health Department notified each property of the CDC's conclusive findings and ordered them to immediately work on their water systems, including cleansing, superheating, cholorinating and hiring a private consultant experienced in eliminating Legionella from building water systems, according to the release.
More than six weeks later, the Health Department notified the public with the statement it released Monday.
Bedminster said that there had been no delay - and that remediation work began immediately.
"We have worked in good faith with both the resorts during what I have said was a monitoring process. We had some agreed-upon deadlines that had not been met, so we had to let the public know," she said.
Bedminster said that Health Department officials had discussed the possibility of enforcement actions with the Department of Labor and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to get those deadlines met, but she did not know the outcome of the discussions.
"Safeguarding the public's health, including that of employees and guests, from exposure and threats are of the utmost importance to the Department of Health," acting Health Commissioner Mercedes Dullum said in the prepared statement. "DOH will continue to monitor this situation with assistance from the CDC. People should not be discouraged from traveling to or within the U.S. Virgin Islands."

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