The Waco Family Y hot tub is no longer in hot water.
Officials said the facility at 6800 Harvey Drive has not skipped a beat since it received a clean bill of health from the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, which announced late last month it was investigating possible Legionnaires’ disease exposure there.
“Test results came back negative,” health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine said.
The Y, a Dallas-based environmental quality company and the district will continue to track the situation, Craine said.
The Y announced Feb. 26 it had closed a whirlpool adjacent to an indoor pool after consulting with the health district. Health officials had expressed concern that two people who later suffered from symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease had been exposed to the offending Legionella bacteria at the Y. The bacteria proves deadly in one of every 10 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was linked to a then-mysterious illness in 1976 that killed 29 people attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, headaches or other pneumonia-like symptoms.
Craine said once the Waco-McLennan County Health District was notified of the cases, its staff started analyzing the movements of the patients in pursuit of a common denominator. It discovered both had visited the Waco Family Y during a February time frame when exposure was suspected.
But tests reveal no evidence that the Y was the culprit, Craine said.
The news came as a relief, said Rodney Martin, YMCA of Central Texas president and CEO. The hot tub area and whirlpool reopened late last week, Martin said.
“There were members anxious to get back in,” he said. “There were no Legionella bacteria present in our water sources, so our water management system was doing well, doing what it should. But we will follow an additional protocol suggested by the health district, which involves testing by a company out of Dallas. We will pay for the service, and have been told it will cost $5,000 to $7,000 a year, depending on the number of water samples they need to take and how often they need to take them.”
He identified the company as Garratt-Callahan, with regional offices in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch and a local representative.
“They are considered CDC ‘elite’ environmental consultants,” Martin said.
He said paying the fee will not necessarily place a financial squeeze on the 4,300-member Y, “but this amount has not been budgeted, so we may have to make adjustments, consider cutbacks in other areas.”
“We have stated throughout this that our top priority is the safety and well-being of our members, and keeping them happy,” he said. “Our staff does a great job of maintaining equipment, the whirlpool and the pool. Usage has not skipped a beat since we reopened, and several members have communicated to us they did not think the problem was within our water source.”
The bacterial disease is a form of pneumonia and is typically contracted through inhalation of mist or vapor from contaminated water. Infected people are not considered contagious.
Hammad Akram, an epidemiologist with the Waco-McLennan County Health District, said the district will continue to conduct testing whenever and wherever it deems necessary, but he did not know specifics of the Y case moving forward.
A posting on the Y website mentions the health district’s findings and congratulates the aquatic director and other staffers “for exceeding the health department’s standards with our pool and whirlpool maintenance.”
Other local Legionnaires’ disease cases have captured the attention of the Waco-McLennan County Health District. In July, it ordered the Fairfield Inn and Suites Waco North, on North Interstate 35 in Lacy Lakeview, to notify guests of a risk of Legionella bacteria exposure.
The health district required similar action from the hotel in August 2017 after four cases of the disease were reported in guests dating back to October 2016, local health officials reported at the time.
“They now are on a water management plan, and there are a host of things they are required to do,” Craine said this week.
In January, a Waco attorney sued the hotel and its corporate owner, alleging he contracted the disease during a six-day stay there.
The CDC recorded almost 7,500 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in 2017, though the illness often is underdiagnosed, according to the organization.
About six years ago, The Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Memorial Drive hired a team of contractors to remove what was described as trace amounts of Legionella bacteria found in 21 buildings on the hospital campus. Seven of the affected buildings were patient care facilities. Only five of the 26 buildings campuswide were free of contamination.