3rd death tied to Chicago Legionnaires' outbreak

The JW Marriott Hotel in the Loop recently had an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease. Eight people became sick, and two of them died. (Heather Charles/Tribune)

A third visitor to a downtown hotel earlier this summer has died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease, city officials announced Friday.

Media in Ireland are reporting that the man was a retired plumber who was in Chicago to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary when he apparently contracted the disease.

Newly released test results indicate the primary source of the Legionnaires' outbreak at the JW Marriott at 151 W. Adams St. was a decorative fountain in the hotel’s main lobby.

The Irish Examiner reported that Thomas Keane, 66, shared a meal with his wife at the JW Marriott during their July trip to Chicago. 

The father of three from Limerick and his wife were marking their anniversary by visiting another son who lives in the Chicago area, the Examiner reported.

In addition to the third death, the Chicago Department of Health reported two more cases of Legionnaires' disease linked to the hotel, bringing the total to 10.

Those testing positive for the disease visited or stayed at the JW Marriott between July 16 and Aug. 15.

Hotel officials have removed the decorative fountain that test results showed was the primary cause of infection. Tests also showed that the pool, the spa’s whirlpool and both the men’s and women’s locker rooms contained “the same species of Legionella as were found in the ill patients.”

Those areas “have either been disabled or made inaccessible to the public,” the health department said. Shower heads in guest rooms tested negative for the bacteria.
 
Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, comes from Legionella bacteria, which can thrive in warm water.

Parts of the spa were closed and the fountain, whirlpool and pool were first drained after three cases of the disease were reported among hotel guests last week.

Health officials do not believe there is an ongoing risk of infection at the Marriott. They said the hotel, which remains open, is cooperating with the investigation.

Keane, who died Wednesday, is the first person to contract the disease to be publicly identified. After returning to Ireland in late July, the Examiner reports, Keane became ill and was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. The Examiner is a national daily newspaper based in Cork. An email sent to Richard Keane wasn’t returned Friday.
 
A spokesman with Health Service Executive, Ireland’s national health care provider, said he couldn’t comment on specific cases because of confidentiality concerns. Chicago’s public health department declined to confirm if Keane was one of the outbreak’s victims.

Local officials have not provided information on the identities of the ovictims, beyond saying that one person who contracted the disease and survived is from Illinois, and that the eight victims confirmed earlier in the week ranged in age from 49 to 82.
 
CBS-TV Chicago reported earlier this week that a physician from Florida died after being infected. That report could not be confirmed. Health officials in Virginia and Minnesota each told the Tribune they had tied one non-fatal case of Legionnaires’ to Chicago.

A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health said his state has also confirmed one case of Pontiac fever, a less severe infection caused by the same bacteria, in a person who visited the Marriott. “Many other” Minnesotans who stayed at the hotel have symptoms consistent with Pontiac fever, the spokesman said.

Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are infected with Legionnaires’ every year in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and between 5 and 30 percent of those who get sick later die. Most people exposed to Legionella do not become ill. The disease cannot be transmitted from person to person.