The 12th Street entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home, the largest and oldest veterans’ home in the state of Illinois.

Legionnaires’ disease is once again afflicting the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, IL, after two residents contracted the disease and one victim died, according to multiple news reports.

Legionnaires’ disease, which is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection, sickened 53 people and led to 12 deaths in 2015 at the Veterans Home, which houses about 400 residents. There were another four cases of Legionnaires’ disease at the facility in 2016.

Officials said they believe the most recent death resulted from a “long, complex medical history” and was not the direct result of Legionnaires’ disease.

The head of the Veterans Home was surprised by the two recent cases because the home’s frequent water tests have been negative all year for Legionella bacteria, which cause Legionnaires’ disease.

The Veterans Home, which unveiled a nearly $5 million, state-of-the-art water treatment plant in 2016, tests 500 separate and random locations each month. Three of the residents sickened with Legionnaires’ in 2016 took ill after the water treatment plant was made operational in June.

The Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working together with Veteran Home officials to determine whether the current illnesses were contracted at the home or off campus.

Residents at the Veterans Home at extreme risk

Legionella is contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as showers and faucets, hot tubs, spas, cooling towers and air-conditioning systems, to name a few.

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is usually necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.

Why is it called Legionnaires’ disease? 

In July 1976, more than 4,000 delegates gathered at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia for the American Legion Convention. Several days after the conclusion of the four-day event, many attendees took ill. By August 2nd, 22 attendees were dead and hundreds who had attended the gathering were experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms. The final case count reached 221, and 34 victims died. It wasn’t until months later that the bacterium was identified and isolated and found to be breeding in the cooling tower of the hotel’s air conditioning system.