WISCONSIN DELLS — Christmas Mountain Village Resort has been updating its water treatment systems with oversight from the Sauk County Health Department after Legionella bacteria was discovered in the resort’s water systems earlier this year.
Following the findings, department employees inspected all 379 water outlets at the resort. Sauk County Health Officer Timothy Lawther said the resort has since replaced all its water filters.
“I was fairly clear that if we found things in our inspection that were problematic that we were certainly within our rights and I was leaning towards closing the resort down until this was fixed,” said Lawther. “As a result of that, they spent quite a lot of money and a lot of time, they replaced all of the filters and made sure they followed the plan they had agreed to.”
In March, three people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease within two weeks of staying at the resort.
The Sauk County Health Department and the resort have entered into a permanent water management plan to ensure the safety of water systems throughout the resort long term. The resort has begun work replacing tank water heaters with tankless heaters, adding a chlorine injection system and system flushes. Lawther said the work should be done by the end of November.
“After this, they will have what we consider to be a very good water management and remediation plan,” said Lawther. “I will be sending staff out on a random basis, unannounced to check that.”
In an official statement from Bluegreen Vacations, the parent company of the resort, the company said the resort continues to stay open and is welcoming guests while they work with the Sauk County Health Department to ensure safe and healthy experiences for all.
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This is not the resort’s first encounter with the bacteria, as cases of illnesses caused by the Legionella bacteria were traced back to the resort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2017. The resort closed two units affected at the time.
In November 2018, a death at the resort, which was not linked to the other cases of Legionella-caused illnesses, prompted the Sauk County Health Department to investigate the resort, said Lawther. Legionella bacteria was again found in water systems after extensive testing done by the resort, and the resort installed point-of-use filters on showerheads and faucets, which prevents bacteria from getting into the water used by guests.
Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria, and becomes hazardous when people breathe in mist contaminated with the bacteria, such as while they are showering or using sinks, Lawther said. The bacteria commonly grows in water systems such as pipes and hot water tanks.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by the bacteria, include cough, fever, chills, muscle aches, shortness of breath and headaches, according the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The DHS is warning resort guests to seek medical treatment if they display these symptoms within 14 days of staying at the resort.
Lawther said the department has also notified homeowners in the area surrounding the resort of the presence of the bacteria in the area, and is advising them to have their water and water systems checked.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct that there has been no detection of Legionella bacteria at Christmas since March 2019.