Sick with Legionnaires?
Call (612) 337-6126

Elliot Olsen has decades of experience representing people injured by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member were sickened with Legionnaires at Rush Oak Park Hospital, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Rush Oak Park Hospital is the latest Chicago-area hospital being investigated for a possible Legionnaires’ disease outbreak after two patients were diagnosed with the sometimes-deadly pneumonia-like illness.

The two victims were patients at the hospital for only part of the time when they were likely exposed to Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). One was admitted in May, the other in mid-July.

Two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella is how long it takes for the disease to develop, so it’s unclear if the hospital was the source of the exposure.

The IDPH, however, confirmed in a press release that “previous water samples collected by the hospital” tested positive for Legionella. The IDPH is teaming with the Oak Park Department of Public Health and the hospital with data collection to pinpoint the source of the bacteria that caused the two illnesses.

Rush Oak Park: Legionella inhaled

Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:

  • water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • air-conditioning system cooling towers
  • large plumbing systems
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • whirlpools and hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • swimming pools
  • decorative fountains.
Rush Oak Park: 4th in Chicago

The Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park is the fourth Chicago-area hospital in four months that is being investigated by the IDPH for a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak:

Rush Oak Park: hospital skeptical

Rush Oak Park Hospital spokesperson Deb Song said the “likelihood of them contracting [Legionnaires’] here is unlikely.”

“The source of these two cases are yet to be determined,” Song told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The health and safety of our patients, visitors, and staff is of the utmost importance. Rush Oak Park Hospital has a comprehensive water-management program that follows the highest federal standards and CDC best practices.”

Hospital officials said they routinely conduct water tests, add disinfectant to the building water, flush pipes and install filters. They are conducting surveillance to identify other potential cases and to ensure appropriate testing and clinical management of patients

Rush Oak Park: growing problem

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection that is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires in the United States continues to increase,” according to Laura Cooley of the Respiratory Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cooley said she believes the increase is due to the rise in the susceptibility of the population – that is, more and more people are on immunosuppressive medications. Additionally, there could be more Legionella in the environment, with warmer temperatures creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.

Rush Oak Park: difficult diagnosis

According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States every year. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the highest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.
Rush Oak Park: symptoms

Legionnaires symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they even can resemble those of influenza (flu):

Although the disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious – that is, it cannot be passed from person to person. The condition is treatable with antibiotics when diagnosed early enough, although if that does not occur, it can lead to severe complications.

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — may produce signs and symptoms, including a fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect your lungs, and symptoms usually manifest within two to five days.

Rush Oak Park: complications

Hospitalization is usually necessary after a Legionnaires’ diagnosis. In the most severe cases, complications can occur; they include:

  • respiratory failure: caused by changes to the lung tissue, or oxygen loss in arteries supplying the lungs.
  • septic shock: this can occur when Legionella produce toxins that enter the bloodstream and cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to the loss of adequate blood supply to the organs.
  • kidney failure: those same Legionella toxins can damage the kidneys’ ability to eliminate waste from the blood, resulting in kidney failure.
  • endocarditis: an infection of the inner lining of the heart that can affect the ability of the heart to maintain adequate blood flow through the body.
  • pericarditis: swelling of the pericardium, which is the primary membrane around the heart. This can also affect the ability of the heart to circulate blood throughout the body.