Laboratory testing results show that water and swab samples collected from a Richmond spa contained high levels of legionella bacteria, making it the likely source of Legionnaires’ disease among multiple customers.
Contra Costa Health (CCH) began investigating Zen Day Spa, 12230 San Pablo Ave. on Aug. 4, after area hospitals reported two deaths from Legionnaires’ disease. Both people visited the business before becoming ill.
The business voluntarily closed Aug. 5, and remains closed under a health order issued by CCH. CCH collected water and swab samples and, while still awaiting final reports from the lab, initial results show high concentrations of legionella bacteria.
CCH has contacted more than 30 recent customers of Zen Day Spa as part of its investigation, as well as recent cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported through community healthcare providers.
Beyond the two people who died with lab-confirmed Legionnaires' disease, CCH has as of Aug. 21 identified two other people who visited the business and had lab-confirmed Legionnaires’ disease, and two people who reported becoming ill after visiting the business, whom investigators suspect had Legionnaires’ disease.
CCH will not release personal information about these people, in accordance with medical privacy laws.
Legionnaires’ disease can cause serious pneumonia. While legionella bacteria naturally live in fresh water, health concerns can arise in hot tubs and pools where the bacteria can grow if the water is not maintained properly. People can become infected after breathing mist containing the bacteria. The disease does not spread from person to person.
Hot tubs in commercial day spas or massage parlors generally require health permits, and are regularly inspected by CCH. The tub at Zen Day Spa did not have a permit and was never inspected by CCH.
Given the preliminary laboratory results, CCH today issued an abatement order declaring the business a public nuisance and ordering it to contract for professional cleaning of the affected space and removal and disposal of the hot tub within 30 days to ensure the elimination of legionella. The business may not reopen until re-inspected by CCH.
CCH will be in communication with civic partners, such as municipal code enforcement programs, about investigating other spas and massage parlors across the county to ensure that those with hot tubs also have proper health permits to operate.
“Proper maintenance of hot tubs and pools is becoming increasingly important, both for businesses and private citizens who own tubs, as we continue to experience climate change,” said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, Contra Costa County health officer. “Higher temperatures make growth of legionella and bacteria more likely, and more prolific, in water that is not properly treated.”
Anyone can use CCH’s swimming pool and spa inspection database to see recent inspection results of permitted public pools and hot tubs in Contra Costa County.
People who suspect an establishment is operating a public spa without a health permit can file a complaint online or by phoning 925-608-5500. Links to both the database and complaint form are available at cchealth.org/eh.
Information about which pools and spas need permits, as well as advice and instructions about proper maintenance, are available at ccheath.org/eh/recreational-health.