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Legionnaires' outbreak that has sickened 100 could be tied to hot tubs at N.C. state fair

The majority of people who got sick walked by hot tubs on display at the state fair. One person has died.

A Legionnaires' disease outbreak in North Carolina that has sickened more than 100 people and left one person dead may be tied to hot tubs that were on display during a state fair, according to officials.

At least 116 people who visited or worked at the N.C. Mountain State Fair in Fletcher have tested positive for Legionnaires', according to a statement released Thursday by the state's Department of Health and Human Services. Another eight people who were at the fair have confirmed cases of Pontiac fever, a milder form of the infection.

One person has died, and at least 80 have been hospitalized, according to the state health department.

The fair took place between Sept. 6 and 15, and state health officials said the majority of people who got sick walked by hot tubs at an event center during the second half of the fair.

Legionnaires’ is a serious lung infection caused when bacteria called Legionella are spread through water droplets in the air and breathed in, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease can be treated with antibiotics, but about 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with Legionnaires' dies, according to the CDC. People older than 50, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting the disease.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' can include coughing, muscle aches, fever, shortness of breath and headaches, the CDC says. North Carolina health officials are urging anyone who went to the fair and is experiencing any of these symptoms to go to their doctor.

Legionella bacteria has so far been found in one water sample taken from the event center that had the hot tub display at the fair, according to the health department statement. Results are pending from other samples taken.

“Finding Legionella in one water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but it does not tell us how so many people were exposed at this event,” state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said in the statement.

A statement from the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, where the fair was held, said it is working with health officials to investigate the cause of the outbreak.

The Davis Event Center is closed "while it undergoes an aggressive and comprehensive mitigation plan," the statement said.