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Illinois health officials are probing a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Batavia after four seniors were hospitalized with the sometimes-deadly lung infection.

The four sickened were residents at Covenant Living at the Holmstad, according to a Kane County Health Department (KCHD) news release. Investigators have been at Covenant Living for days searching for a source of the Legionella bacteria, causes Legionnaires’ disease.

“Four people were hospitalized when they came down with symptoms,” KCHD public information officer Susan Stack told the Chicago Tribune. “We do not know if they are still hospitalized, or if they were treated and released.”

Officials at the senior residence have notified residents, family members, significant others, and staff members about the outbreak.

“Public health officials are testing for Legionella bacteria and continue to investigate to identify potential sources and additional individuals who may have been exposed during this period,” KCHD executive director Barbara Jeffers was quoted in a news release. “Covenant Living is working closely with public health officials.”

In 2018, Illinois reported 512 cases of Legionnaires’ disease statewide. So far, 2019 has produced 251 confirmed illnesses.

Covenant Living outbreak: symptoms

Seek care from your health-care provider if you are a resident, employee of or have visited Covenant Living recently and are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, which usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella:

  • 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.
Covenant Living outbreak: difficult diagnosis

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

A person contracts Legionella bacteria 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.
Covenant Living outbreak: complications

Hospitalization is almost always required after a diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease. 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.

Covenant Living outbreak: VA woes

The Illinois Veterans Home-Manteno (IVH-Manteno) has reported a single case of Legionnaires’ disease. The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) notified all residents, families, and staff. The sickened resident is in stable condition.

In January, an IVH-Manteno resident passed away, becoming the 15th Illinois veterans’ home fatality since 2015 caused by Legionnaires’ disease; 14 were residents of the IVH-Quincy. After the Manteno fatality, three fixtures tested positive for low levels of Legionella at the facility: a faucet, a sink, and a shower.

Last week officials conducted a thermal treatment response. As a precaution, the facility shut down the resident’s sinks, ice machine, and community shower. Water use is restricted, and residents and staff are receiving bottled water.

Covenant Living outbreak: Illinois busy

Last month, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) linked two confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease to the AmericInn by Wyndham Hotel in Schaumburg and was investigating the outbreak with the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH). Both victims used the water in their guest rooms, the hot tub, and pool during their stays at the hotel in July and August.