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Recent deaths from Legionnaires’ disease may be linked to Richmond spa

The Contra Costa County seal, logo. (Photo courtesy of Contra Costa County)
Contra Costa County/Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County
The Contra Costa County seal, logo. (Photo courtesy of Contra Costa County)

Health officials are looking into two recent deaths from Legionnaires' disease that might be linked to a Richmond spa.

An investigation by Contra Costa Health – or CCH – revealed that both individuals that died had visited the Zen Day Spa a few days before symptoms began. Legionnaires’ Disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by an infection from the legionella bacteria – which is contracted by inhaling contaminated water or soil.

Legionella bacteria is commonly found in natural freshwater sources. It can infect people who breathe in contaminated water droplets, such as mist in a hot tub. Officials are taking water samples from the spa for lab analysis to confirm the presence of legionella bacteria.

Health inspectors closed the spa on Friday after discovering that the business had never been issued a permit to operate a spa or pool.

Shaeri Mukherjee is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California San Francisco, who conducts research on Legionnaires’ Disease. She told KALW legionella outbreaks typically occur in facilities that store large quantities of water – and licensed facilities are required to test regularly for the bacteria.

Legionnaires' disease does not spread from person-to-person and is treatable with antibiotics.

CCH is investigating the source of the potential outbreak to prevent further cases and expects to have results later this week. Anyone who may have recently visited Zen Day Spa is encouraged to watch for symptoms of Legionnaires' disease and seek medical help, if they experience shortness of breath, fever, chills and cough.

Laura Isaza is an audio journalist primarily covering climate and the environment. Born and raised in the Seattle area, she came to the Bay to attend UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. On her off time, you'll most likely find her skiing up and down mountains or attempting to climb rocks.