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OBJECTIVE: To investigate the source and risk factors associated with Australia’s largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. DESIGN AND SETTING: Epidemiological and environmental investigation of cases of Legionnaires' disease associated with visits to the Melbourne Aquarium; two case-control studies to confirm the outbreak source and to investigate risk factors for infection, respectively. PARTICIPANTS: Patients with confirmed Legionnaires' disease who visited the Melbourne Aquarium between 11 and 27 April 2000 were compared (i) with control participants from the community, and (ii) with control participants selected from other visitors to the Aquarium during this period. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Risk factors for acquiring Legionnaires' disease. RESULTS: There were 125 confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease caused by Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 associated with the Aquarium; 76% of patients were hospitalised, and four (3.2%) died. The Aquarium cooling towers were contaminated with this organism. Visiting the Aquarium was significantly associated with disease (odds ratio [OR], 207; 95% CI, 73-630). The case-control study indicated that current smoking was a dose-dependent risk (multivariable OR for currently smoking > 70 cigarettes/week, 13.5; 95% CI, 5-36), but chronic illness and duration of exposure at the site were not significant risks. CONCLUSIONS: This study showed an association between poorly disinfected cooling towers at the Aquarium and Legionnaires' disease in visitors, and confirmed current smoking as a critical risk factor. The rapid response, publicity, and widespread urinary antigen testing may have resulted in detection of milder cases and contributed to the relatively low apparent morbidity and mortality rates. The urinary antigen test allows rapid identification of cases and may be changing the severity of illness recognised as Legionnaires' disease and altering who is considered at risk.