Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in Illinois’ Champaign County since September 15, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (C-UPHD).
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said investigators believe the county residents sickened may have participated in recent wedding activities and are looking at three sites including First Christian Church in Champaign, as possible sources for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires. First Christian was the only location named by the IDPH.
C-UPHD administrator Julie Pryde said, however, that only three of the six people sickened had contact with the church. The suspected source there is a decorative water fountain that has been turned off, Pryde said. Water features such as fountains can pose a threat if the water becomes infected with Legionella bacteria, because the water can become aerosolized and people breathe it in, Pryde said.
“Legionnaires’ disease is not known to spread person-to-person,” Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the IDPH, told The News-Gazette. “Most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to Legionella bacteria. Individuals at increased risk of developing Legionnaire’s disease include those older than 50, or who have certain risk factors, such as being a current or former smoker, having a chronic disease or having a weakened immune system.”
Others susceptible to infection include:
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).
More trouble for Illinois
Legionnaires outbreaks and clusters have been making headlines in Illinois throughout the year, including:
- Two guests of the Embassy Suites (600 N. State St.) in downtown Chicago were confirmed with Legionnaires in September.
- McHenry County in northern Illinois investigated a Legionnaires’ disease cluster in which nine people were sickened between June 7 and July 1.
- At the start of the 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 were 332 cases confirmed in 2017, and 318 in 2016.
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.
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:
- shortness of breath
- muscle aches
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Where do Legionella grow?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria grow best in warm water and 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:
- cooling towers
- hot- and cold-water storage tanks
- water heaters
- shower heads and hoses
- electronic and manual faucets
- ice machines
- hot tubs
- medical equipment (such as CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment, bronchoscopes, etc.)
- faucet flow restrictors
- water filters
- pipes, valves, and fittings
- centrally installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
- non-stream aerosol-generating humidifiers
- water hammer arrestors
- expansion tanks
- infrequently used equipment including eyewash stations
- decorative fountains.