updated 2/12/2009 2:32:33 PM ET 2009-02-12T19:32:33

Atlanta’s largest hospital has found the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease in patients’ rooms, and officials said Thursday it likely sickened four people who were treated there.

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Lab tests showed legionella bacteria in water samples taken from Grady Memorial Hospital rooms on two floors where the patients came down with the disease since Jan. 1, said Dr. Leon Haley, the hospital’s deputy chief of staff.

Legionnaire’s can be deadly, but was not in these cases. However, 80 beds are off limits while the hospital tests and flushes the water system with hyperchlorinated water. The positive samples were taken from bathroom areas, not air vents.

No signs of the bacteria were found in other parts of the hospital, Haley said, adding that nearly 300 samples were taken.

Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial infection that can cause deadly pneumonia. It does not spread from person to person. Instead, people get it from inhaling contaminated mist or vapor. Tainted shower water, air conditioning systems or whirlpool spas are among the ways the bacteria can get in the air.

The four patients all had been treated at Grady, released, then came down with the disease and returned to the hospital where they were diagnosed. One remains hospitalized.

Grady — a public hospital in downtown Atlanta with about 950 beds — customarily sees only two or three cases of infection with the bacteria each year, officials said.

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