OCEAN CITY — A historic Boardwalk hotel this week relocated guests and closed three days earlier than planned after state and local health departments reported three unrelated cases of Legionnaire’s Disease, possibly linked to the lodging establishment.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the Worcester County Health Department on Wednesday announced three individuals who were guests at the Plim Plaza Hotel had developed legionellosis, more commonly known as Legionnaire’s Disease, roughly one week after staying at the hotel. All three individuals were hospitalized.
State and local health department officials have not confirmed that the individuals acquired the illness at the hotel and the investigation is ongoing. However, samples were taken from water sources in the building and are being cultured for the legionella bacteria at the state DHMH laboratory. Preliminary results suggest the presence of legionella bacteria in hotel water, but the final culture results are not expected to be available for at least a week.
“Right now, it looks like the hotel is the common link for the three cases although we can’t be certain,” said Dr. Andrea Mathias, deputy health officer for Worcester County. “In this instance, the three cases were all visitors, or travelers, not from our jurisdiction. It looks like the hotel is the connection, but there could be other sources. There is enough of a connection to warrant the relocation of their guests, but we won’t be certain for at least a week.”
Legionellosis is a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling aerosolized water, or water mist, containing the legionella bacteria. Roughly two to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria, a small number of individuals exposed to the bacteria may develop legionellosis, which can be treated with commonly available antibiotics.
Symptoms mimic the flu, including high fever, cough and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea or severe body aches. Persons at higher risk include smokers, the elderly, those with chronic lung disease or those with compromised immune systems. However, the illness is not spread from person to person.
Mathias said the three reported cases appear isolated and there have been no further appearances of the illness. However, she cautioned those who might have been exposed and are experiencing symptoms to see their physicians.
“People who stayed in the hotel within the last 14 days, maybe even in the month of September, might be in the window of this Legionnaire’s situation,” she said. “Anyone who stayed there and begins to show the symptoms should probably see their physician. There is no screening test, unfortunately. People either come down with the symptoms or they don’t.”
Almost immediately after the Plim Plaza and Harrison Group staff learned of a possible connection between the hotel and the three reported cases, guests staying at the hotel were relocated to the company’s other properties in Ocean City. The 181-room facility was about 50-percent occupied at the time the possible connection to legionellosis was reported.
“We can’t stress enough just how proactive and cooperative the staff at the Plim Plaza and the Harrison Group have been,” said Mathias. “Besides voluntarily relocating their guests, they have initiated a call back to all of their guests who have stayed at the hotel within the last few weeks to advise them of the situation and urge them to make arrangements to see their physicians if they are exhibiting any symptoms.”
For the Harrison Group, even a remote connection between the reported cases and the Plim Plaza where the three individuals had stayed was reason enough to relocate the guests and close the facility three days prior to its scheduled season-ending closure.
“When we got the notice from the health department, obviously, we decided to relocate all of our guests in the hotel as a precautionary measure,” said Harrison Group Marketing Director Betsy FauntLeroy yesterday. “We’re still not entirely sure the three cases originated at the Plim Plaza, and we won’t know for certain for another week or so, but we wanted to be proactive in the interest of the safety of our guests. … We phoned everyone who has stayed with us since Sept. 1 to let them know if they come down with flu-like symptoms to go see their physician and get checked out. We want to be up front with everyone and make sure they are aware of the possible situation. First and foremost, we want to keep everybody safe, get them relocated and let them enjoy their vacation.”
Mathias cautioned the three apparently isolated cases do not constitute an outbreak and downplayed any major cause for alarm.
“The total number of cases in Maryland this year is currently at 82, which is not out of proportion to the norm,” she said. “Maryland averages about 100 to 130 cases a year, and with just a couple of months left, it certainly doesn’t appear to out of the norm. There certainly isn’t an outbreak or anything like that.”