Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires at an Arkansas senior residence, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) said test results from water samples at an Arkansas senior residence revealed the existence of live Legionella bacteria.

Testing was ordered after two tenants at the Garland Towers & Garden Apartments were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, the waterborne form of pneumonia caused by Legionella. Older individuals, who make up the majority of tenants at the senior residence, are more susceptible to the illness.

Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially deadly respiratory illness, 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
  • people with weakened immune systems.

The Garland Towers & Garden Apartments at 126 Oriole Street is a low-income housing apartment for seniors subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Arkansas senior residence: bacteria ‘alive’

Preliminary testing indicated the presence of the bacteria, but the recent positive result confirmed their viability – that is, alive and capable of being the cause of the illnesses.

“We did six samples, and two of them got a colony, which means there was at least one organism in the sample,” Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, ADH medical director for immunizations, told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. “That’s a very low number, but in this setting, where you have a lot of people with risk factors in the building, it’s concerning. We can’t prove (the diagnosed cases) got Legionella from the building, but it’s entirely possible that they did. ”

Hot Springs’ residents have accounted for 10 of the 52 cases diagnosed in Arkansas since the start of the year, according to the ADH.

Last month, the National Park Service Office of Public Health recommended all building owners/lessees in the Hot Springs National Park discontinue using showers connected to thermal water sources after Legionella bacteria were detected at Quapaw Baths & Spa. The decision was made after three cases of Legionnaires’ disease were confirmed in out-of-town visitors to the spa; one of the three victims died.

Arkansas senior residence: plan implemented

Dillaha said Belmont Management Co., the Garland Towers landlord, agreed to the department’s recommendations, including commissioning a water-management plan. The program would focus on the building’s boiler, common breeding grounds for Legionella.

“There’s other places in Arkansas and around the United States that have these types of complex water systems,” Dillaha said. “The most important thing is the need for a water-management plan. They need to contract with a company that can do a thorough assessment of the building and make recommendations specific to the building on handling water.”

Hospitals and nursing homes are required to bolster oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful Legionella bacteria. 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,” Legionnaires lawyer Elliot Olsen said. “I am not aware of any oversight really at any level.”

Arkansas senior residence: disease info

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

“The antibiotics can really help,” Dillaha said. “I think it’s important for people to know if they have the risk factors that they communicate that with their doctor if they get sick. Then the right test can be ordered, and it can be diagnosed early.”

Symptoms – which usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella – mimic those of pneumonia and even common flu. Along with cough, fever, and shortness of breath (dyspnea), other symptoms to be concerned about include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • chest pains (called pleurisy or pleuritis)
  • gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

Legionnaires’ disease often is overlooked or undiagnosed because of its vague symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.