The death of a former Royal Caribbean cruise ship captain who died of Legionella in 2009 remains a mystery. The cruise company issued a statement this week that the tests for Legionella bacteria on the ship came back negative. Tore Myhra, 59, fell ill on the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship shortly before the vessel docked in the United States. Myhra, who worked as a captain on several ships, entered a Miami, Florida, hospital and died shortly after.

His wife, Sue Myhra, who worked as purser on the ship, called her husband’s death “ironic.” His cause of death is listed as Legionella pneumophila pneumonia. She attempted to bring lawsuits against Royal Caribbean but has been rebuffed several times. A Florida court dismissed her case as was an appeal. A lawsuit filed in the UK was withdrawn.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean said that it is certain that Myhra did not contract Legionella while aboard the ship. When he showed Legionella symptoms that included the flu, the ship’s doctor treated him for the disease.

“All of Royal Caribbean ships have systems and procedures in place to monitor for Legionella, in accordance with strict legal requirements,” the cruise line said in its statement.

Legionella testing on cruise ships

The cruise company engages in legionella water tests during the cruise. Royal Caribbean said that it called in independent experts to test for Legionella, and all the tests came back negative before, during and after the cruise. After Myhra became ill, the vessel was also tested for Legionella by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control. All tests for Legionella were returned negative, the cruise line said. It’s expected that there will be an inquest into the captain’s death in Norwich this spring. Where Myhra caught the disease is still unknown.

The incidents of Legionella in the UK have received heightened interest after two people died and 19 fell ill with Legionella after exposure to the disease at the JTF Warehouse in Fenton last summer.

Investigators at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) traced the Legionella to hot tubs displayed at the business. "Spa pools are known to pose a risk of Legionella if water systems are not rigorously maintained, properly managed and subject to regular chemical controls,” the HPA said in its report.

Legionella bacteria find favourable conditions to grow and multiply in hot tubs, whirl pools and spa pools. The bacteria embed themselves in the water, the froth and the mist that floats through the air. The mere act of walking past is enough to cause an infection of Legionella. Victims breathe in the mist and can become ill. Those who are more likely to be affected are individuals over the age of 50.

The Legionella incident at the warehouse is listed as the second worst outbreak of the disease in UK history. The HPA is working on new regulations concerning the public display of hot tubs and spas. Disease researchers around the world have pointed to these water pools as a cause of outbreaks in other countries. The focus is now looking again at cruise ships to determine if they are the point of Legionella disease.

About 20 percent of Legionella hospitalisations are associated with travel, according to a report in the Environmental Reporter. When analysing recent Legionella disease clusters, seven were associated with hotels and three were located on cruise ships.

Studies show that whirl pool spas and water systems are where the bacteria take up residence on cruise ships. The spas aboard ships are especially susceptible to Legionella infestation because these water devices tend to run 24 hours per day. Add in the perfect temperature for incubation, and the Legionella bacteria can grow and multiply quickly. The control of Legionella requires pointed attention to chlorination and the removal of water film that contains biological material.

In 2010, the widow of a UK man was awarded a £70,000 settlement from Fred Olsen Cruises. Robert Heath, 77, contracted Legionella disease while aboard the M.S. Black Watch in 2007.

More than 50 cruise ship passengers were hit with Legionella on nine different cruises in 1994. The whirl pool spas on the ships were the likely culprits harboring the bacteria. The investigation found that those people hanging around the spas were more likely to be infected than those in the water.

Aquacert Legionella Test Kits & Legionella Testing for Ships

Author: +Duncan Hollis