Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate that the Quincy Illinois Veterans’ Home is taking the proper steps in the deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak. Fifty-four people have been sickened with Legionnaires’ Disease in that part of the state, and 13 people have died, including one person who was not living at the Veterans’ Home. The Illinois Department of Public Health just released an update on this outbreak.
Durbin wrote, “The Illinois Veterans’ Home-Quincy is the largest and oldest veterans’ home in Illinois, providing long-term care for veterans and their families since its inception in 1886. However, the size of the campus and the age of its infrastructure and plumbing have made it particularly difficult to track the source of the outbreak.”
Legionnaires’ Disease is a pneumonia-like illness caused by the Legionella bacteria. The bacteria grows in water, particularly in large plumbing systems, cooling towers, fountains, hot water tanks, evaporative condensers, and HVAC systems in large buildings and structures. The bacteria is released into the air via mist. When that mist is inhaled, people can get sick. Some people have contracted this illness by aspirating contaminated water.
Two other Legionnaires’ outbreaks have occurred this summer. One, in the South Bronx area of New York City, sickened 124 people and killed 12. It was linked to contaminated cooling towers at the Opera House Hotel. The other, at San Quentin State Prison in California, sickened at least 51 people.
People most susceptible to this infection include anyone over the age of 50, current or former smokers, and those with chronic lung disease or other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. Most patients who present with symptoms of pneumonia aren’t tested for Legionnaires’ Disease unless others living in the same area or same structure are also sick.
Legionnaires’ Disease is not spread person-to-person, which makes it different from regular pneumonia. The symptoms of this illness include high fever, chills, muscle pain, and headache. A cough then develops, which may be dry or may produce blood or mucus. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, and diarrhea.
Most cases of Legionnaires’ Disease can be treated with antibiotics. But the death rate in this illness is high, up to 30%. Legionellosis is a reportable disease in many states.
The source of the bacteria at the Veterans’ Home has not been found. The staff has cleaned the cooling tower at the Home, has cleaned hot water tanks, and are keeping fountains turned off. It can be difficult to pinpoint the source of the bacteria, especially when the structure or systems are old, as they are in Quincy.