Best Western Sovereign Inn battles Legionella bacteria

GUILDERLAND — The Best Western Sovereign Inn in Guilderland — plagued with Legionella bacteria for the past two months — last week installed a new hot-water tank to try to eliminate the problem.

Albany County will test the water again on March 14, said Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the county.

Mansoor Mustafa, the inn’s general manager, said business at the hotel is down by 80 percent.

“At this point, we have the cleanest water in Albany,” Mustafa said, referring to the fact that there is a new tank and the system has been treated. “But it is still impossible to say how much this will effect our reputation going forward.”

The bacteria, according to Rozak, was found in the hotel’s water system after the health department identified a cluster of six people across the state diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

The only connection between the six infected people was a stay at the Best Western in late 2011.

The county and state health departments notified the hotel, and collected a water sample for assessment in January, said Rozak. The water tested positive for Legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, but can grow in warm, stagnant water, such as hot tubs, cooling towers, hot-water tanks, and large plumbing systems. In Best Western’s case, the bacteria was growing in the hot-water tank, Rozak said.

“Apparently, it is a common bacteria, and isn’t dangerous at low levels; it is unfortunate that it decided to flourish in the tank we have at the hotel, and we don’t know why,” said Mustafa.

Legionella bacteria got its name in 1976 when people who went to an American Legion convention in Philadelphia got the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized each year with Legionnaires’ Disease, according to the CDC, but many infections are not diagnosed or reported.

Legionnaires’ disease comes from breathing in a mist or vapor that has been contaminated with the bacteria, such as steam from the shower. It can’t be spread through drinking water, and is not contagious, Rozak stressed.

The symptoms of the disease, a form of pneumonia, can mimic the flu, and include chills, muscle aches, fever, and a cough.

The six people who were infected after staying at the Best Western were treated and have since recovered; according to Rozak, the disease can be fatal in rare cases, especially in people with compromised immune systems. The CDC reports that Legionnaires’ disease causes death in 5 to 30 percent of cases.

The Albany County Health Department is asking anyone who stayed at the Best Western in Guilderland in late 2011 and early 2012, and exhibited flu-like symptoms, to report to it and get tested for Legionnaires’ disease.

The hotel was advised to “super-chlorinate” its water and showerheads, said Rozak. After completing the treatment, the water was re-tested on Feb. 21, and the sample still contained Legionella bacteria.

“We put chlorine, about 100 times more concentrated than what you’d put in a pool, through the whole system and flushed it out,” said Mustafa.

“Some people may have gotten the idea that we’ve been dragging our feet on this, but we have been following the exact directions of the health department,” he said.

Last week, the hotel decided to get a new hot water tank in an attempt to eliminate the problem. The new tank has been installed, and another water sample will be tested on March 14, Rozak said.

In the interim, the Best Western has been notifying all guests that the bacteria is in the water system.

Mustafa said the hotel’s main focus is to re-educate the public and help them understand that this is no longer a concern.

“This is not an outbreak,” concluded Rozak. “It is not a need for panic or hysteria.”


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