Legionnaires lawyer Elliot Olsen has won millions for clients. If you or a family member got sick in this LaPorte County outbreak, you might have cause to file a Legionnaires lawsuit. Please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Three Indiana government employees are recovering after contracting Legionnaires’ disease in July.

“They’re back to work but not quite fully recovered from the severe form of pneumonia,” said Dr. Vidya Kora, LaPorte County Commission president.

The LaPorte County employees, who all worked in the same building (which was not identified), were infected by a cooling tower on a county building across from the LaPorte County Complex.

One illness was so severe that the patient developed sepsis, which is an extreme response to an infection. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death.

LaPorte County outbreak: prime suspect

Officials immediately suspected the cooling tower as the source, because of the water inside it. Subsequent environmental tests of the cooling tower confirmed their suspicions and returned positive results for Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.

Officials said they believe bacteria likely was formed by the extreme rise in temperatures and humidity during July. Also, nearby work on a highway overpass was considered a possible culprit as dust from the construction could have carried and distributed the bacteria.

Warm, stagnant water provides the right conditions for growth, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The organism can multiply at temperatures between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and temps of 90 degrees to 105 degrees are optimal for that to occur.

“Legionnaires is usually caused by a mist of water,” Kora said.

LaPorte County outbreak: water droplets

Legionella bacteria 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:

  • air-conditioning system cooling towers
  • large plumbing systems
  • water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • swimming pools
  • whirlpools and hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.
LaPorte County outbreak: multiple cleanings

Maintenance crews disinfected the cooling tower, but it took two rounds of cleaning and disinfection before test results were Legionella-free. There are additional county buildings with cooling towers, Kora said, but officials don’t have plans to test other buildings.

LaPorte County outbreak: oversight lacking

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to provide rigorous oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella. There is, however, little regulatory oversight of apartments, hotels, and other non-medical buildings.

“There’s not a lot of people checking up on a hotel, a condominium or a large building,” said Elliot Olsen, who has filed Legionnaires lawsuits on behalf of patients and their families for more than 20 years. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”

LaPorte County outbreak: disease FAQs

Who is at risk?
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.

Are there complications?
After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. 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 strength 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.

What are the symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. It frequently begins with the following signs and symptoms:

  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, other signs and symptoms develop, including:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus and sometimes blood
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

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

What is Pontiac fever?
A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease, called Pontiac fever, can produce similar symptoms, including a fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually manifest within two to five days.