Two more people have died in the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at the Quincy, Illinois Veterans’ Home, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Since the outbreak began last month, the number of people who have died is twelve, including one person who did not live at that facility.
At least 45 more people, including five workers, are also ill at the Veterans’ Home. Those who died had underlying health problems. No new cases have been reported since the last update.
Public health officials do not know where the bacteria were growing. They continue to investigate the outbreak and are taking environmental tests. Lab results are pending.
Legionnaires’ Disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria, which grows in warm water. In large outbreaks, evaporative condensers, air conditioning systems, cooling towers, HVAC units, fountains, and plumbing systems harbor the bacteria. The bacteria is released from these structures in the form of mist. When the mist is inhaled, people get sick.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease include a high fever, chills, and a cough that may produce blood or mucus. Some people may experience fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, confusion, or diarrhea. Symptoms usually begin two to fourteen days after exposure to the bacteria.
The illness is very similar to pneumonia, but is more deadly. Up to 30% of those diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease die. Most people who are sick with pneumonia-like symptoms are not tested for Legionnaires’ Disease as a matter of course. But when a large number of people get sick at once, especially in a facility like a nursing home, doctors begin testing for the Legionella bacteria. The illness is not transmitted person-to-person, so it is not contagious.
People most affected by Legionnaires’ Disease and most susceptible to serious complications from this infection are those over the age of 50, current or former smokers, and anyone with a chronic disease. Those with lung diseases are especially at risk for this illness.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is getting help in its investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lab support is also being provided by the federal government.
So far, staff at the Veterans’ Home has cleaned hot water tanks, cleaned the cooling tower, and has certified systems with the help of outside experts. They are also keeping fountains and other sources of aerosolized water turned off. They are using bottled water for residents and staff, and are removing suspected systems until they are treated and tested.