The Illinois Veterans Home, where a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak killed 12 people is replacing its water system and making repairs. Last August and September, at least 45 people living at that facility were sickened and 12 people died after contracting the illness.
Legionnaires’ Disease bacteria, also called Legionella, lives and grows in water systems, especially in older buildings. The bacteria is hard to kill and can thrive for years in a system until an outbreak occurs. The bacteria is released in vapor or mist from showers, fountains, air conditioning units, cooling towers, HVAC units, hot tubs, and other water systems. When people, especially those in high risk groups, breathe in the vapor, they can get sick.
Anyone who is over the age of 50, who has underlying health problems or a a weakened immune system, or who has lung disease, and former smokers are more susceptible to the illness and serious consequences from it. Most people are usually diagnosed with pneumonia, which resembles Legionnaires’ Disease. When several people living in the same facility or in the same area present with the same symptoms, doctors test for the pathogenic bacteria.
Many older buildings have improperly designed water systems. In addition, cleaning and sanitizing these older systems can be difficult, and bacteria can thrive under these conditions.
According to ABC Chicago, the 129-year-old building is being upgraded with disinfection equipment, back flow valves, and other upgrades to help prevent bacterial growth. The facility’s operating funds had been withheld because of a budget impasse at the Illinois legislature. The upgrades should be completed by April 2016.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Anywhere from five to thirty percent of Legionnaires’ Disease patients die from complications of this illness.