Water samples tested positive for the Legionella bacteria at the Good Samaritan Society – Prophets Riverview in Prophetstown, IL, after more than half of the nursing home’s residents took ill, including nine who died from a mysterious respiratory illness.

Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, but none of the home’s sick residents tested positive for the disease.

More than 20 of the nursing home’s three dozen residents developed a respiratory illness between mid-May and June 29, including the death of nine residents during that same timeframe.

It’s unknown whether any of nine who died from their illnesses had contracted Legionnaires’, according to Whiteside County Health Department administrator Beth Fiorini.

Residents were tested for “a long list of viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory infections (including both influenza and Legionella)” according to a statement on the Good Samaritan website. Tests were negative for any of the usual respiratory suspects.

No employees, only residents, suffered from the health issues and respiratory symptoms.

“Low levels” of Legionella bacteria was detected during testing, which is “not unusual,” according to Aaron Woods, a spokesperson for the national Good Samaritan Society, the nonprofit that owns and operates the facility.

“We’re following the state recommendations as well as the county’s recommendations to get this level decreased,” Prophets Riverview administrator Benjamin Ornelas said. “So at some point, we can get a no-detection level.”

Three weeks of remediation efforts, including installing .2 micron filters (used to sterilize fluid passed through them) in showerheads and faucets, has slowed the spread of respiratory illnesses, as only one resident developed symptoms in more than a week.

The home’s staff is wearing gowns, gloves, and masks to provide residents with a clean environment, and using bottled water and bathing wipes. They are also running tap water in a fine stream and removed aerators from faucets to try and avoid water from misting. Legionnaires’ disease is a waterborne virus that infects people when microscopic droplets containing Legionella bacteria are inhaled.

Prophets Riverview has had a state-mandated water-testing protocol in place since regulations were updated last year.

Legionnaires is no stranger to the state
Currently, McHenry County in northern Illinois is investigating a Legionnaires’ disease cluster that has sickened nine residents from five different cities in the county between June 7 and July 1.

Earlier this year, it was learned that the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) was battling a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak for the fourth consecutive year after a fourth resident 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.

More than 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported in Illinois each year, according to the IDPH. There have been 91 cases so far in 2018 after 332 were confirmed in 2017, and 318 in 2016.

Legionnaires’ 101

Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of 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 yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Ten percent of people who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

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.

Where do Legionella live?
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

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

Legionnaires’ symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms can even resemble those of flu, which is why it often goes under-reported.

Symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, both 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).