The hotel will remain closed until at least mid-August.
The Courtland Street hotel shut down voluntarily after three guests who had recently visited or stayed there tested positive for the disease, which can cause a potentially serious lung infection. Another three had reported illness by the end of the week.
On Monday, three more cases were confirmed, another was found Wednesday and the state health department announced the 11th case Friday.
People who are older than 50, have medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes, or have a history of smoking are the most likely to face dire effects. But no deaths have been reported, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Investigators have yet to determine whether the hotel is indeed the source of the outbreak. But, so far, the team is not conducting testing at any other location. Instead, it is looking for clues at the Sheraton, which hosted all of those who are ill, either as hotel guests or visitors, according to the state health department.
When testing hotels for Legionella bacteria, which cause Legionnaires’ disease, investigators typically begin in pools, hot tubs and water fountains, the most likely culprits of the bacterium, said Department spokeswoman Nancy Nydam. The investigation can expand well beyond those water sources, stretching in to the hotel’s water supply system, including the plumbing system, she said.
The Sheraton Atlanta announced on Friday it will remain closed at least until at least Aug. 11 and may remain closed for several weeks longer, depending on the test results and whether remediation is necessary.
Legionella bacteria are found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, the agency says, it can become a health concern when it grows and multiplies in human-made building water systems.
The consultants hired by the hotel are working with epidemiologists and environmental health staff from the state health department and Fulton County Board of Health.
In Georgia, there have been close to 90 confirmed cases this year, according to the state Department of Public Health. Last year, there were 180 confirmed cases and nine suspected cases in the state. That’s up from 41 in 2008.
A variety of factors may be contributing to the increase, according to the CDC. More awareness of the disease could mean more reporting. But there’s also improved testing, and an aging population is more susceptible. Another factor could be more Legionella in the environment.
Officials stressed that the disease is not spread from person-to-person contact. The bacterium makes its way into the lungs of most people who become ill after they breathe in mist or steam infected with Legionella.
About one in 10 people who come down with Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from the illness, the CDC said.