A fourth case of Legionnaires’ disease since Feb. 12 was confirmed at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) after a positive laboratory testing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affair (IDVA). The resident is recovering and in stable condition.

It is the fourth consecutive year the IVHQ has had to deal with a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. There were six confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ at IVHQ last year, including the death of one person. That outbreak increased the number who have died at the facility because of the disease to 13 since 2015. There were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths during the 2015 outbreak.

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) returned to IVHQ last week, at the request of the IDPH, to review testing protocols, and offer additional support and guidance. Staff from the CDC are working with IVHQ and IDPH officials to complete the following checklist:

  • Conduct environmental and epidemiological assessments to identify potential exposure sources.
  • Increase clinical testing protocols for people with respiratory illness to include not only testing for Legionella, but also for influenza and other respiratory viruses.
  • Conduct clinical and environmental sample testing at the CDC.
  • Identify public health and infection control interventions.
  • Partner in communications with the local hospital to streamline testing.

Illinois Senator promises federal help

Democratic Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and former director of the IDVA, toured IVHQ this week and said she would work to get federal money to battle the Legionella problem at the home.

She also took a shot at Governor Bruce Rauner for not having fixed the problem.

“What he has failed to do is communicate accurately and completely with Sen. Durbin and myself,” Duckworth said. “We stand ready to help and find the federal resources.”

Duckworth said Rauner has made no formal request for assistance from the federal government to address the issues at the IVHQ.

Earlier this month, Rauner unveiled his 2019 budget proposal, which included an allocation of “$50 million for capital improvements to the Quincy Veterans’ Home in response to the health and safety concerns” caused by the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. On Nov. 12, 2004, her helicopter was hit by an RPG and Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.

Gubernatorial opponent slams Rauner

“What the hell is wrong with this Governor?” Rep. Jeanne Ives said in reference to the IVHQ situation. “Veterans and their families are getting sick and dying, Governor. Get them out of there now.”

Ives is running against Rauner in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

Ives said that if she were governor, she’d seek emergency federal funds. “This is a three-year crisis, and nothing has been done,” she said.

What is Legionnaires’ disease? 

Legionnaires’ disease – also called Legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur each year, but only 5,000 cases are reported because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Ten percent of those infected with the respiratory illness will die from the infection.

How do you catch Legionnaires’ disease? 

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.

Outbreaks have been linked to a range of sources:

  • large plumbing systems
  • water systems like those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • cooling towers in air conditioning systems
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • hot water tanks and heaters
  • showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • decorative fountains.

People also can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they “aspirate” contaminated drinking water – that is, choking or coughing while drinking can cause water to go down the wrong pipe into the lungs.

It’s also possible to contract Legionnaires’ disease from home plumbing systems, although the vast majority of outbreaks have occurred in large buildings because complex systems amplify the conditions for bacteria to grow and spread more easily.

Who is most susceptible? 

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

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (such as corticosteroids).

More Legionella found in Illinois state offices

Elsewhere in Illinois, Legionella bacteria was detected in the hot water supply after testing at the state Comptroller’s office, according to an e-mail sent to staff Tuesday from Assistant Comptroller Marvin Becker.

Testing was ordered after the bacteria was found at the state Capitol Complex in January. The water supplies between the Capitol and the comptroller’s building are separate from each other.

Officials say they’re not aware of any Legionnaires’ disease illnesses affecting any state employees or the public from either the Comptroller’s office or the Capitol Complex.

The Illinois State Comptroller building is located at 325 West Adams Street in Springfield.