Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Two guests of the same downtown Chicago hotel have been confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The only commonality between the two patients is that both stayed at the Embassy Suites (600 North State Street) in the city’s River North neighborhood.

“At this time, it is not known whether the Embassy Suites was the source of the bacteria that caused the two people to become sick,” the CDPH wrote in a statement.

Both patients, out-of-state residents whose illnesses were confirmed by a laboratory, have been treated and are recovering. One was diagnosed in mid-August, the other in early September.

The hotel is cooperating fully with the investigation, and officials said there is no immediate risk to the public. The hotel is notifying thousands of guests who stayed at the Embassy Suites from early August to early September.

“We’ve been working with this hotel very closely since we heard about it,” CDPH commissioner Dr. Julie Morita told WLS-TV. “They’ve taken appropriate actions and have shut down any potential sources of this bacteria.”

At the CDPH’s recommendation, the hotel has commenced remediation efforts: closing all water features, including the pool, hot tub, and fountain, and disinfecting its water system. An alert on the Embassy Suite’s website states: “Our fitness center and pool will be undergoing maintenance September 4-November 30, 2018. One of our meeting rooms will house a temporary fitness center during this time.”

The health department has begun environmental testing at the property, including taking water samples, to determine whether the property is the source of the Legionella bacteria that sickened the two guests. Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor.

“Our primary concern is always the safety and well-being of our guests and employees,” Embassy Suites officials wrote in a statement. “We are working closely with the city and are taking all appropriate steps as directed.”

WLS-TV reported, however, that a guest said they were not notified about the situation upon check-in,

Watch for symptoms
The CDPH recommends that anyone who visited the hotel since early August, works at the property, or travels near the vicinity of the hotel should be alert for signs of illness. An infected person might not yet be presenting symptoms, because of the disease’s incubation period.

That incubation period – that is, the amount of time between breathing in the bacteria and developing symptoms – is usually 2 to 10 days after exposure and can be as much as 16 days.

If you are feeling flu-like symptoms (see list below), it’s recommended you see your health-care provider immediately out of an abundance of caution.

“We are working to help prevent additional people from becoming sick,” Morita said. “Individuals who believe they may have been exposed and who develop symptoms should contact their provider.”

Similar to other pneumonia types

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease look like other forms of pneumonia or even the flu, which is why so many cases go unreported every year. Early symptoms can include the following:

  • chills
  • fever (potentially 104 degrees or higher)
  • headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches.

After the first few days of the disease presenting, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • chest pain when breathing (called pleuritic chest pain, due to inflamed lungs)
  • confusion and agitation
  • a cough, which may bring up mucus and blood
  • diarrhea (about one-third of all cases result in gastrointestinal problems)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath.

(Note: There is also a mild form of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever, which can produce similar symptoms that include fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect the lungs, however, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.)

More on Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia. 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.

Approximately one in 10 patients infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the disease.

Legionella sources
The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to numerous sources, such as:

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

People also can contract Legionnaires’ disease by the aspiration of 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 allow the bacteria to grow and spread more easily.

Who is most at risk for infection?
Anyone can get the disease, but those at the highest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 years old or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • people with weakened immune systems (those suffering from conditions such as diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, or infected with HIV)
  • organ-transplant recipients (kidney, heart, etc.)
  • individuals following specific drug protocols (for instance, corticosteroids)

Even relatively healthy individuals have been known to contract the disease, although less typically.