The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported a new case of Legionnaires’ disease in the state. This recent case joins two more infections identified in the past month at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. The facility has suffered three Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks since 2015.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of waterborne pneumonia. It is caused by infection with the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which may be found naturally in fresh water. The bacterium can contaminate air conditioner cooling towers, hot tubs, water tanks, showers, sinks, and fountains. Legionella is spread when people breathe in mist that contains the bacteria, though it does not typically spread directly between people.
Legionnaires’ disease has an incubation period of two to ten days, meaning that it may take that long for people exposed to the bacterium to develop or show signs of infection. Early symptoms may include muscle pains, headaches, and general discomfort, while later ones may include dry coughing, shortness of breath, high fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, the disease can result in coma and death.
While anyone could be infected, Legionnaires’ disease typically targets those who are already in a vulnerable or weakened state, including the elderly, diabetics, smokers, and those with poor immune function or chronic lung disease.
Roughly 1,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year, though this number is likely far lower than the actual infection rate for the disease since medical professionals typically do not look out for it.
Legionnaires’ disease can be treated with antibiotics, but there is currently no vaccination available to prevent the illness. Approximately 10 percent of Legionnaires’ disease infections prove fatal.
New Case of Legionnaires’ Disease in Illinois
On February 24, 2018, officials from the Illinois Department of Public Health reported a new case of Legionnaires’ disease in an Illinois resident.
The officials offered no additional information about the resident, including his or her condition. At the time of the announcement, health workers were in the process of gathering information about the individual’s recent travels to identify potential sources of exposure. The individual had reportedly visited a Springfield hotel and the Capitol Complex last month.
Illinois Veterans’ Home Outbreaks
This latest case of Legionnaires’ disease joins a series of outbreaks of the illness at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy, IL. There have been three major outbreaks at the nursing home since 2015, which left 13 dead and at least 61 sickened. Those outbreaks prompted surviving family members to file eleven lawsuits against the State of Illinois.
Under public pressure, the engineering staff at the Illinois Veterans’ Home has taken steps to combat Legionnaires’ disease at the facility, including removing faucets from the residents’ room and collecting water samples.
Nevertheless, on February 12, 2018, officials at the Illinois Department of Public Health announced two more laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. The officials noted at the time of the announcement that the two residents who had contracted the illness were doing well.