(CNN)Five guests who stayed at a prominent downtown Atlanta hotel have become sick with Legionnaires' disease, prompting an investigation of the hotel on Monday, officials said.
"Based on epidemiological evidence we have an outbreak among people who stayed at the [Sheraton Atlanta] during the same time period," said Nancy Nydam, director of communications at Georgia Department of Public Health, on Tuesday.
Legionnaires' is a serious form of pneumonia that is noncontagious. Guests who complained of lung problems and were later diagnosed with Legionnaires' had attended a convention at the Atlanta hotel a couple of weeks ago.
Thousands infected each year
The hotel's general manager, Ken Peduzzi, said that "the health and safety of our guests is our greatest priority."
The hotel is working with the state health department as well as Fulton County Board of Health and environmental specialists to test for the bacteria, Georgia's health department said. The Sheraton Atlanta has closed "out of an abundance of caution ... while we await the results," Peduzzi said.
"This is the typical way these situations as handled since the assessment and testing can be complicated," according to Nydam. The state health department plus "Fulton County Board of Health epidemiologists and environmental health staff will work with them on the next steps in the investigation (technical assessment, sampling plan and submission)," she added.
In addition to relocating current guests to nearby hotels, Sheraton is also reaching out to guests with upcoming reservations "to assist in directing them to other nearby hotels," according to Peduzzi.
James Francey, one of more than 400 relocated guests, told WSB: "This a hazard of travel ... so OK it happens. The CDC is here in town, so that's great."
Scientists dubbed the illness "Legionnaires' disease" following an outbreak in Philadelphia in 1976, largely among people attending a state convention of the American Legion, according to the CDC. Subsequently, the bacterium causing the illness was named Legionella pneumophila.