The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that as of Tuesday, September 1, 2015, seven people have died in the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at the Veterans Home in Quincy. At least 39 people are sickened in that outbreak. That is an increase of three deaths and 10 more cases since the weekend.
Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ Disease. It grows in warm water systems, such as cooling towers, fountains, and the plumbing systems of large buildings. The bacteria causes the illness when it is inhaled in mist or vapor. People can also aspirate contaminated water; it gets into the lungs and causes this pneumonia-like illness. This disease is not transmitted person-to-person.
The incubation period of Legionnaries’ Disease is two to fourteen days, but most often about five days. Symptoms begin with a high fever of at least 102°F, chills, muscle pains, and headache. A serious cough, which may produce mucus or blood, follows. Chest pain, shortness of breath, and diarrhea can follow. This disease is very similar to pneumonia, and diagnosis may be difficult.
Those who are most susceptible to Legionnaries’ Disease include current and former smokers, anyone who is over the age of 50, those with chronic lung diseases, and those with suppressed immune systems. Most cases are successfully treated with antibiotics, but up to 30% of those who get Legionnaries’ Disease die.
This is the third major outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease this summer. One outbreak, linked to the Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx, New York City, killed 12 people and sickened 124. Another outbreak at the San Quentin state prison in California may have sickened up to 57 people.
Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks are more common in the spring and fall. A diagnosis requires specific laboratory tests that need to be specially requested. Routine lab tests will not identify this bacteria.