The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said a state resident visiting the capitol city of Springfield was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to multiple news reports.

The news comes after positive tests of Legionella bacteria – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – were reported at the Capitol Complex and the Comptroller’s building since late January.

It is not known where the person was exposed to Legionella. The IDPH is investigating the person’s recent travel itinerary, including examining the hotel where the individual stayed during their January visit as well as the Capitol Complex, which they visited. The hotel was not identified.

No further information regarding the state resident was made available by public health officials.

Capitol Complex clear of Legionella

Follow-up testing at two locations in the Capitol Complex that tested positive last month has come back negative for Legionella, according to Henry Haupt, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees the complex. Those locations are:

  • The women’s restroom in the basement of the Michael J. Howlett Building, which is next door to the Capitol.
  • An industrial humidifier in the south wing of the Capitol building.

Nine retests in the restroom and seven in the humidifier were conducted after the areas were drained and disinfected and the water system flushed.

Since the positive Legionella test at the complex, workers have removed aerators from faucets and disabled showers throughout the buildings.

Information about follow-up testing at a third location – the cooling tower in the Central Management Services’ (CMS) computer center – that also tested positive was not available to Haupt because CMS operates it.

State officials also confirmed a positive test for Legionella at the State Comptroller building. The Comptroller building and the Capitol Complex do not share the same water system.

In mid-February, a patient at the Chester Mental Health Center contracted the disease at the state’s only maximum-security forensic mental health facility for adult males.

Woes continue to plague Veterans Home

The state also is battling a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) for the fourth consecutive year after the fourth resident of 2018 was confirmed with the disease.

There were six confirmed cases at IVHQ last year, including the death of one person. The 2017 outbreak increased the number who have died at the facility because of Legionnaires’ disease to 13 since 2015. There were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths during the 2015 outbreak.

Nearly 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported in Illinois each year, according to the IDPH.

What is Legionnaires’ disease? 

Legionnaires’ disease – also called Legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

How do you catch Legionnaires’? 

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 number of sources, including:

  • the cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • large plumbing systems
  • water systems such as those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • 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 is 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 alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).