The landmark Sheraton San Marcos Resort and Country Club in Chandler, known to attract the rich and famous, has been shut down since Tuesday after the discovery of a potentially fatal bacteria that infected an elderly man.
Management for the historic hotel brought in an environmental testing service after they were recently served legal papers charging that an elderly man contracted Legionnaires’ disease while staying at the resort.
The man, who does not live in Arizona, stayed at the country club about six months ago, said Gary Stougaard, executive vice president for Sun Stone Hotel Properties. Stougaard said he does not know how many people have stayed at the resort in the past six months, but added there are no reports of guests falling ill with the disease.
The popular hotel and golf resort learned Tuesday that a boiler in the east wing of the resort tested positive for Legionella pneumophila, a bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. Stougaard would not say why information was not released to the public sooner.
San Marcos reported the detection of Legionella to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health on Thursday, said Doug Hauth, spokesman for the department.
Since then, the department has been looking through records for reports of Legionnaires’ disease from doctors’ offices or medical facilities over the past six months. But so far, no reports have been found, he said.
The possible exposure at San Marcos could be an isolated incident, Hauth said. Infected people would have reported the flulike symptoms and pneumonia associated with the illness, which appear within 10 days, he said. Full-blown Legionnaires’, which is what the man reported to San Marcos, lands people in the hospital.
"If it had been a true outbreak, you would have known by now," Hauth said.
Legionellosis, commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease, can develop from exposure to the common bacteria, Legionella. Infection occurs through the respiratory system, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those with compromised immune systems, middleaged and older people, and smokers are most susceptible to the disease, which infects 8,000 to 18,000 people in the United States each year. An estimated 5 percent to 30 percent die from Legionnaires’, according to the CDC.
Reports of the disease are rare in Arizona, Hauth said.
Employees have continued to work at the resort. A hotline, staffed with health professionals, has been set up for them.
A similar hotline for visitors has not been set up, Stougaard said. And there is no effort under way to contact former guests, he added.
Hotel guests were quickly relocated after learning of the bacteria, Stougaard said. Testing continued throughout the resort, which will remain closed until it is safe to reopen, he said. He did not know how many people were staying at the resort when they temporarily closed their doors, but he estimated that the building was 30 percent to 40 percent full.
Environmental crews will "superheat" the water in the boiler that pumps chlorine through the plumbing system for two days to kill the bacteria, Stougaard said. After disinfecting the boilers, health crews will conduct more tests to determine if the resort is safe to reopen. Stougaard said he expects the hotel to be back in business within 10 days.
The San Marcos Resort, which has lost some of its luster over the years, has spent $6 million renovating itself into one of the East Valley’s historic jewels.
Legionnellosis, or Legionnaires’ disease
• Infects 8,000 to 18,000 people in the United States each year
• Symptoms include fever, chills and cough.
• Bacteria is found in many water systems.
• Exposure comes from breathing bacteria-contaminated mists from a water source.
• Disease is not spread from person to person.
• Time between exposure and onset of disease is two to 10 days.
• Recommended treatment is the antibiotic Erythromycin. Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention