Legionella bacteria was present in preliminary test results at St. John’s Fountain Lake senior community in Albert Lea, MN, according to St. John’s CEO Scot Spates. It was also announced that a third resident had taken ill with Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by Legionella.

The three illnesses were confirmed to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) over the past two months, with the first illness reported in early June and two more illnesses reported since mid-July. None of the three were still hospitalized, according to Spates.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), “Legionnaires’ disease has an incubation period (the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms) of 2 to 10 days.” There hasn’t been a confirmed case at Fountain Lake in the past six days.

The full assessment of the facility’s water supply by consultant Innovational Concepts, Inc. is expected in the next week and presumed to include recommendations on how to end the outbreak and prevent further incidents.

Despite the Legionella finding, the nursing home’s bacteria has yet to be named as the conclusive source for the three illnesses. Minnesota Valley Testing, the company handling the testing of the water samples, hopes to identify the strains of Legionella by late next week and compare them to the patient’s cultures.

Bottled water has been supplied to Fountain Lake’s residents and employees, and they’ve been advised not to the drink the water until the process has been completed. Residents also have been warned to avoid using the ice machines and water sprayers and to take only sponge baths until contractors have completed remediation and testing shows conclusively that the facility is safe.

St. John’s Fountain Lake, which has approximately 100 residents and opened last October, provides independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing care and short-term care for seniors.

Legionnaires’ FAQs

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is similar to other types of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs. Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms in the following forms:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • high fever
  • muscle aches and pains
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Who is most at risk for illness?
Anyone can get Legionnaires’ disease, but people most susceptible to 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).

How prevalent is the disease?
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 does Legionella infect a person?
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, such as:

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