Legionnaires' Disease Outbreak Associated With a Hot Tub Display at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair, September 2019

Public Health Rep. 2024 Jan-Feb;139(1):79-87. doi: 10.1177/00333549231159159. Epub 2023 Mar 27.


Objectives: On September 23, 2019, the North Carolina Division of Public Health identified a legionellosis increase in western North Carolina; most patients had recently attended the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. We conducted a source investigation.

Methods: Cases were fair attendees with laboratory-confirmed legionellosis and symptom onset within 2 to 14 days (Legionnaires' disease) or ≤3 days (Pontiac fever). We conducted a case-control study matching cases to non-ill fair attendees as control participants and an environmental investigation, and we performed laboratory testing (Legionella bacteria culture and polymerase chain reaction) of 27 environmental samples from fairgrounds and hot tubs and 14 specimens from case patients. We used multivariable unconditional logistic regression models to calculate adjusted odds ratios for potential Legionella exposure sources and risk factors.

Results: Of 136 people identified with fair-associated legionellosis, 98 (72%) were hospitalized and 4 (3%) died. Case patients were more likely than control participants to report walking by hot tub displays (adjusted odds ratio = 10.0; 95% CI, 4.2-24.1). Complete hot tub water treatment records were not kept, precluding evaluation of water maintenance conducted on display hot tubs. Legionella pneumophila sequence types (STs) were consistent among 10 typed clinical specimens (ST224) but distinct from the only positive environmental sample from the fair (ST7 and ST8).

Conclusions: Hot tub displays were identified as the most likely outbreak source, making this the largest hot tub-associated Legionnaires' disease outbreak worldwide. Following the investigation, the North Carolina Division of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance on mitigating risk of Legionella exposure from hot tub displays. Results highlight the importance of properly maintaining equipment that aerosolizes water, including hot tubs intended for display purposes only.

Keywords: Legionnaires’ disease; fair; hot tub; legionellosis; outbreak; spa.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Legionellosis* / complications
  • Legionellosis* / epidemiology
  • Legionnaires' Disease* / epidemiology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Water Microbiology