ur opinion! Denpasar. A total of 14 foreign tourists are now confirmed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in Bali since reports of an outbreak emerged earlier this month, health officials said on Saturday.
The previous tally of 11 recorded cases was announced on Jan. 21 and involved nine Australians, one Dutch national and a French national, all of whom have since returned to their respective countries.
The three new cases all involve Australians, Nyoman Sutedja, head of the Bali Health Office, said at a discussion with tourism industry stakeholders on combating the outbreak.
He said a joint investigation by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization following the initial reports in the middle of this month had pinpointed the source of the infection to a hotel in the vicinity of Matahari Square in the tourist hub of Kuta.
Sutedja said the hotel owner had cooperated with the authorities in checking for the Legionella bacteria that causes the diseases, including allowing them to check the hotel’s air-conditioning cooling tower, shower heads, faucets, plumbing and swimming pool.
He also said there were fears that the water vapor-borne bacteria could have spread around the island to popular tourist sites such as Tanah Lot, Ubud, Singaraja and Karangasem.
“We’ve asked health officials in all districts to carry out thorough investigations into cases of respiratory illnesses and report to us routinely,” he said.
Anak Agung Ngurah Jaya Kusuma, director of medicine and nursing at Denpasar’s Sanglah General Hospital, said at the same discussion that cases of Legionnaires’ disease might date back to July 2010, when an Australian tourist died of Legionnaires’-like symptoms at Sanglah.
He added that the following September, Australian authorities confirmed that three of their citizens had tested positive for the disease after returning from trips to Bali.
Jaya Kusuma said Sanglah, the island’s biggest hospital, did not have the equipment needed to detect Legionnaires’ infections.
“Just to order the diagnostic equipment is as complicated as trying to order a Ferrari – you have to get on an import waiting list,” he said.
Sutedja called on hotel owners to take extra measures to prevent the spread of the bacteria, including drying out AC cooling towers not in use, cleaning pools and other sources of standing water, and ensuring that all towels and linen are kept dry.
Participants at Saturday’s discussion agreed to include Legionella bacteria in the health office’s watch list for routine inspections, which also looks for salmonella and E. coli.
The health office currently charges each hotel Rp 200,000 ($22) to test for the two latter bacteria.
“With the new check for Legionella, we might need to charge an extra Rp 1 million to Rp 1.2 million,” Sutedja said.
Perry Markus, head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Restaurant and Hotel Association (PHRI), said the extra cost would not be a problem for hotel owners.
“We want to show that we’re serious about preventing Legionnaires’ from spreading like bird flu, swine flu or SARS,” he said.
He added that while the effect of the outbreak on tourism was still negligible, foreign tour operators were expressing concern.
Ida Bagus Subhiksu, head of the Bali Tourism Office, said it was important to stop the outbreak from crippling the island’s all-important tourism industry.
“Bali has a very high profile, so when visitors come here, we don’t want them going home sick,” he said.