Health Department confirms Legionnaires' outbreaks on St. Thomas, St. Croix

Cases of the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease have recently been detected in both St. Thomas and St. Croix, and the V.I. Health Department is warning the community to do cleaning and maintenance on cisterns and other water systems to help prevent it from spreading.

Legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia, is caused by breathing in tiny droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria.

“About 1 out of every 10 people who gets sick with Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from their illness,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Health Department has not responded to questions from The Daily News about when the outbreaks began, how many cases have been confirmed, and whether any of the cases have been linked to a hotel or other business.

A previous outbreak of the illness between March 2010 and August 2011 was found in stateside residents who had been guests at Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort and Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove, prompting remediation work to the resorts’ water systems.

In that outbreak, five individuals were sickened and required hospitalization but recovered.

Locally, “many residents rely on cisterns for water for showering and other household uses. These cisterns can be another place where Legionella can grow, so it is important to make sure to clean and disinfect your cistern regularly,” according to a news release from the Health Department. “Performing regular cleaning and maintenance on any shower heads, hot tubs, tank water heaters, and any other water tanks used to store potable water will help decrease your risk and keep your family safe.

Health Department confirms Legionnaires' outbreaks on St. Thomas, St. Croix

Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease are often associated with large or complex water systems, like those found in hospitals, hotels and cruise ships, according to the CDC.

The most likely sources of infection include:

• Water used for showering (potable water).

• Cooling towers (parts of large air conditioning systems).

• Decorative fountains.

• Hot tubs.

Signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can include cough, muscle aches, fever, shortness of breath and headache.

If you develop pneumonia symptoms and may have been exposed to Legionella, see a doctor immediately. Be sure to mention if you have used a hot tub, spent any nights away from home or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.

For more information about Legionnaires’ disease, including an assessment and preventative maintenance toolkit, visit