Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced that it is investigating two Legionnaires’ disease clusters, one in Chicago and the other in McHenry and Lake counties. This is the second cluster of the year in McHenry County.

“The two recently identified clusters of Legionnaires’ disease are not connected,” IDPH director Nirav D. Shah, M.D. said in a news release. “IDPH is continuing to investigate possible sources, identify other individuals who may have been exposed, and recommend remediation and prevention measures.”

Three residents from McHenry and Lake counties in the northeast corner of the state on the Illinois-Wisconsin border have been confirmed with the severe respiratory illness. The Walmart Supercenter in Johnsburg, which is located in McHenry County, has been identified as a possible source or “one common potential exposure” for Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires, according to the IDPH.

In Chicago’s near South Side neighborhood, two residents at the Warren Barr South Loop transitional rehabilitation center were diagnosed with the sometimes-deadly bacterial infection.

A timeline for the clusters was not released, nor was any information on the patients.

Walmart shuts down water sprayers
“The Walmart location has taken action, including turning off the produce water sprayers,” according to a news release from the company. “Health officials will continue to investigate any other potential sources and identify other cases of Legionnaires’ disease.”

Legionella 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.

Legionella can grow in many parts of a building’s water system that is continually wet, and certain devices can spread contaminated water droplets. Some examples of devices where Legionella can grow and spread through aerosolization or aspiration – when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking – include:

  • centrally installed misters (like the produce sprayers at Walmart), atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
  • electronic and manual faucets
  • ice machines
  • water heaters
  • hot- and cold-water storage tanks
  • shower heads and hoses
  • cooling towers
  • hot tubs
  • medical equipment (such as CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment, bronchoscopes, etc.)
  • faucet flow restrictors
  • water filters
  • pipes, valves, and fittings
  • aerators
  • non-stream aerosol-generating humidifiers
  • water hammer arrestors
  • expansion tanks
  • infrequently used equipment including eyewash stations
  • decorative fountains.
Two residents at Chicago’s Warren Barr South Loop transitional rehabilitation center were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

Remediation efforts underway
“The Warren Barr nursing home has taken numerous steps, including revising its water-management plan, increased environmental sampling, and heightened clinical surveillance,” the IDPH said of Warren Barr South Loop.

Facility officials said they have notified residents, staff and the families involved about the incidents. They also said they were following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols for ongoing surveillance, mitigation, and remediation and have retained experts to conduct environmental testing.

One of the services offered at the facility, which is located at 1725 South Wabash Avenue, is a pulmonary care unit that specializes in complex lung disease and other chronic progressive respiratory problems.

Nothing new for McHenry County or Warren Barr
Over the summer, 12 people were sickened with Legionnaires between June 7 and July 1 in McHenry County. The McHenry County Department of Health identified an area within a 1.5-mile radius of the intersection of Walkup Road and Route 175 in Crystal Lake as the source for six of the 12 illnesses. No cause for the remaining six illnesses was identified.

In July 2015, a resident at Warren Barr Gold Coast died from Legionnaires’ disease. The Gold Coast rehab center is located approximately 4 miles from the South Loop facility. A source was never found for the Legionella that caused that individual’s death.

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

Legionnaires 411

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. It is treatable with antibiotics, although if it is not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications and even become deadly. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

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.

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).

What are the symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they can even resemble those of influenza (flu). Those symptoms include:

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