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story.lead_photo.caption Quapaw House Baths and Spa in Hot Springs was closed for several days in August after testing at the time indicated the presence of the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. - Photo by Tanner Newton

A Hot Springs bathhouse has closed a shower area and started chlorinating its baths after a water sample from the business was found to contain Legionella bacteria, an Arkansas Department of Health official said Friday.

The positive test result came after Quapaw Baths and Spa closed for several days in August after preliminary results from testing indicated the presence of the bacteria.

The bathhouse then reopened after final test results showed the preliminary indication had been erroneous.

A follow-up test, however, confirmed the presence of the bacteria in water taken from one of the showers, Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's medical director for immunization, said.

The sample was collected on Sept. 18, and the department received the test results Monday, she said.

She said the contaminated water came from a hot spring and was then cooled before going to the showers and baths.

The department also tested water from public fountains, and that was found to be safe, she said. The water that comes directly from the hot spring, without being cooled, is too hot for bacteria to survive in, she said.

"Any building that has a complex water system, like a hotel or a hospital or a cruise ship, is vulnerable to having this organism grow because the waters are warm enough for it to grow but not hot enough to kill it," Dillaha said.

The Health Department began investigating the bathhouse after receiving reports of people who were diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease after visiting it.

So far, three such cases have been reported, including one person who died, Dillaha said.

The disease is a severe type of pneumonia that can be treated with antibiotics. It spreads when people inhale aerosolized droplets of water containing the bacteria.

Symptoms usually begin two to 14 days after exposure and can include cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headaches and fever.

Brent Everitt, a spokesman for the National Park Service's Midwest regional office, said the water from the showers was thought to be from the city's water system, but that "turned out to be incorrect."

"Showers, by public health standards, have to be potable, treated water," Everitt said.

He said the park service is conducting additional tests of water throughout the park.

A spokesman for the bathhouse said the two showers that have been closed were used by patrons to cool off. Dressing room showers connected to the city water system remain in use.

She said the bathwater chlorination is being done temporarily while devices that use ozone to disinfect water are being installed.

In a statement, the bathhouse said it is cooperating with the Health Department and Park Service and believes "there needs to be a serious examination and determination of the source" of the contamination.

"Out of an abundance of caution, one shower area of our facility is temporarily closed, but our pools, baths, steam caves, spa and other luxurious amenities are all open and servicing our highly valued clients," the bathhouse said.

"We have always and will continue to take far-reaching steps to provide a healthy and memorable experience for all Quapaw visitors," the statement added.

Metro on 10/05/2019

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