State health officials have reported that two new cases of Legionnaires’ disease may be linked to Rush Oak Park Hospital. This potential outbreak comes on the heels of several other Legionnaires’ disease cases associated with Chicago-area hospitals in the past year.
Outbreak at Rush Oak Park Hospital?
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said it was investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease in individuals who were both recent patients at Rush Oak Park Hospital, one in May and the other in mid-July. According to the IDPH, the infected individuals were patients at the hospital for part of the time when they could have been exposed to Legionella pneumophila, a bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease and which may grow in building water supplies.
The IDPH is working with the Oak Park Department of Public Health and Rush Oak Park Hospital to collect information and sample the facility’s water. Previous water samples collected by the hospital showed positive results for Legionella pneumophila.
Rush Oak Park Hospital reported that it routinely conducts water testing and has taken steps to reduce exposure, including adding disinfectant to the water, flushing the pipes, and installing point-of-use filters. The facility is also conducting surveillance to ensure appropriate testing and clinical management of patients and to identify other potential Legionnaires’ disease cases.
Multiple Legionnaires’ Disease Cases in Chicago-Area Hospitals
If confirmed, the recent Oak Park infections would hardly be the first Legionnaires’ disease cases associated with Chicago-area hospitals in the past year.
In June, the IDPH announced that three patients and one staff member at Oak Lawn’s Advocate Christ Medical Center have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease since 2018, including two people who were patients within the two previous months. Illinois health officials also investigated possible outbreaks at Mercy Hospital in April and the University of Chicago Medical Center in May.
How Hospitals Are Especially Vulnerable
GWC Managing Partner Louis C. Cairo has represented multiple Legionnaires’ disease victims throughout his career. In a recent interview with CBS 2 News Chicago following the reported outbreak at Advocate Christ Medical Center, he discussed how hospitals are especially vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease because they have large water systems and patients with compromised immune systems.
“You have huge systems of water that sometimes stay stagnant for long periods of time,” said Mr. Cairo. “They would have an even higher responsibility to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to safely maintain their water systems, flushing it out on a regular basis.”
Legionnaires’ disease, an atypical form of pneumonia, was first identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) following an outbreak at an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Roughly 1,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported to the CDC each year, though that number may be far lower than the actual infection rate.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by infection with the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which may be found naturally in fresh water. Legionella pneumophila can contaminate air conditioner cooling towers, hot tubs, water tanks, showers, decorative fountains, and other water sources. It is spread when people breathe in mist that contains the bacterium but is not usually passed from person to person.
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 – all of whom are more likely to be hospital patients.
It can take two to ten days for people exposed to Legionella pneumophila to develop or show signs of infection. Early symptoms may include muscle pains, headaches, and general discomfort, while later ones may include a dry cough, shortness of breath, high fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, Legionnaires’ disease may result in coma and death.
Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics, though there is no vaccination currently available to prevent infection. Hospitalization may be required, and approximately ten percent of those infected die from the disease.
Let a Personal Injury Attorney Help You
If you or a loved one has contracted Legionnaires’ disease while at a hospital or some other facility, contact GWC Injury Lawyers today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our Illinois personal injury attorneys.
With over $2 billion recovered for our clients and offices throughout the state, GWC is one of the leading Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois.