A Legionnaires' outbreak that has sickened possibly dozens of people started at the Sheraton Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed Thursday, saying test results indicated Legionella bacteria in the hotel’s cooling tower and in a decorative fountain in the atrium.
The public health department said the entire hotel water distribution system has undergone remediation.
The Sheraton Atlanta was cleared to reopen after an inspection of the hotel by the Fulton County Board of Health on Thursday, though sampling and testing will continue at the hotel, according to the state health department.
The hotel shut down voluntarily on July 15 after three people who stayed at or visited the hotel reported that they had been diagnosed with the Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia. Since then, state health authorities have confirmed 13 cases of the infection and say there are 66 probable cases. One death also has been attributed to complications from the bacteria that causes the respiratory ailment.
A metro Atlanta photographer filed a lawsuit Monday against the Sheraton Atlanta, saying the hotel’s “negligence in the operation and maintenance of the water systems” caused him and others to become ill with Legionnaires’ disease.
The lawsuit — which names the Arden Group and Arepii Sa Hotel, companies that own and manage the Sheraton Atlanta, and hotel general manager Ken Peduzzi as defendants — accuses the hotel of failing to either adopt or follow a water management plan to prevent the spread of the Legionella bacteria.
Most people get sick because they breathe in water droplets contaminated with bacteria found lurking in cooling towers, hot water tanks and condensers in large air-conditioning units. Pools and hot tubs also are sometimes sources of the disease. It is not spread by person-to-person contact.
MORE: What is Legionnaires' disease? FAQs about the severe form of pneumonia
MORE: AJC Deja News: Legionnaires' disease claims first Atlanta victim (1978)