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The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has identified a construction site as a possible cause of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Batavia.

The construction site is a short walk from the Covenant Living at Holmstad retirement home at 700 West Fabyan Parkway. Twelve residents of the facility have been confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease, which is contracted by inhaling Legionella bacteria-infected water droplets in the form of mist or vapor.

Just this week, two additional illnesses were diagnosed in people who live nearby Covenant Living but have no connection to the retirement home.

According to the IDPH, construction workers have been using pressure washers, which could aerosolize infected water and subsequently spread the Legionella.

A seven-month construction project began June 10 on the Fabyan Parkway bridge over the Fox River. (Fabyan Parkway is also known as County Highway 8.)

If construction equipment is the source of the problem, even people who have driven by or through the construction area could become infected.

Batavia Legionnaires outbreak: city water not source

City officials said the Legionella causing the 14 illnesses did not come from the local water supply.

Batavia city administrator Laura Newman told City Council members on Monday that chlorine tests of the water system returned levels higher than that required by the IDPH, meaning that Legionella could not survive.

“Our water system was never the culprit,” Mayor Jeff Schielke told the Kane County Chronicle.

Batavia Legionnaires outbreak: Sick? Seek treatment

Health officials are warning residents, employees, or individuals who have visited Covenant Living, as well as anyone living within a mile of the construction area, to watch for respiratory symptoms.

Seek care from your health-care provider if you are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, which usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. Initial symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus or blood
  • shortness of breath, also called dyspnea
  • chest pains, also called pleurisy
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

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

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease, such as COPD (most commonly, bronchitis or emphysema)
  • people with weakened immune systems.

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.

Batavia Legionnaires outbreak: disease complications

After a diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease, hospitalization is almost always required. In the most severe cases, complications can occur, such as:

  • 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.

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

According to CDC statistics, about one out of every 10 people (10 percent) infected with Legionnaires will die due to complications from the illness.

More information about Legionnaires’ disease and updates on the outbreak can be found at KaneHealth.com/Pages/Menu-Disease.aspx.

A total of 285 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in Illinois thus far in 2019.