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Legionnaires’ disease continues to trouble Illinois veterans’ homes after a Manteno veterans’ home resident succumbed to the disease, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) announced.

The resident passed away Jan. 20, becoming the 15th Illinois veterans’ home (IVH) fatality since 2015 caused by Legionnaires’ disease. No other details were released on the latest victim.

Earlier last week, Brigadier General Stephen Curda, acting director of the IDVA, confirmed the discovery of “low levels” of Legionella bacteria in preliminary water tests collected at the IVH-Manteno facility.

“These results showed low levels of legionellosis at three fixtures: a faucet, a sink, and a shower,” Curda wrote in a letter to residents, family members and staff. “These three water fixtures were immediately taken out of service.”

Results of follow-up testing are expected by the end of this week.

IVH-Quincy was first
The Manteno home is located in north-central Illinois, approximately 50 miles south of Chicago. It is the second veterans’ home hit by the deadly respiratory illness since 2015.

Last January, the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) battled a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak for the fourth consecutive year after four residents were confirmed with the disease. There were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths during the first outbreak, in 2015.

More than 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported in Illinois each year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). There were 332 cases confirmed in 2017, and 318 in 2016. Totals for 2018 have not been released.

Death comes after Governor’s visit
The Manteno death occurred just days after new Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker visited the facility and signed an order for an audit of all Veterans’ Affairs safety and security processes. The order also was issued to ensure full and timely communications with residents and their families, staff and the public.

Pritzker was very critical of previous Governor Bruce Rauner’s handling of the Quincy crisis.

The IDVA notified residents after it was alerted Jan. 8 that one of Mantano’s residents had tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease as part of a safety response plan. Additional actions taken included testing the water and checking residents’ vital signs more often.

Legionnaires’ 411

A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “75 percent of (Legionnaires’ disease) acquired in health-care settings could be prevented with better water management.”

Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.

Other people more susceptible to infection include:

  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages.

This list also includes anyone with an immune system weakened by:

  • frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis, or skin infections
  • organ inflammation and infection
  • blood disorders, such as low platelet counts or anemia
  • digestive problems, such as cramping, appetite loss, diarrhea, and nausea
  • delayed growth and development.

Disease symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of influenza (flu), which is why it often goes under-reported. Early symptoms generally include:

  • severe headaches
  • muscle aches
  • suppressed appetite
  • fever (104 degrees or higher) and chills.

Symptoms can then worsen to include:

  • pleuritic chest pain (pain caused by inflamed lungs)
  • dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • cough, which can produce blood and mucus
  • gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (about one-third of Legionnaires cases produce these symptoms)
  • mental agitation and confusion.

About 10 percent of people infected with Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) will die from the infection.

Legionella sources
Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and clusters have been linked to a number of sources, including:

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