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Public health officials are investigating whether Central DuPage Hospital in suburban Chicago is the source for three cases of Legionnaires’ disease diagnosed at the hospital.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) investigators are seeking the source of Legionella bacteria that sickened three patients who were treated at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, about 34 miles west of the Chicago Loop.
A person contracts Legionella by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. Legionella thrive in warm water and are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:
- water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
- large plumbing systems
- air-conditioning system cooling towers
- 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.
Central DuPage Hospital: measures taken
While the hospital is possibly to blame for the infections, “[the patients] also had other possible sources of exposure during the 10 days before they started showing symptoms,” according to an IDPH press release.
One of the cases involved an individual admitted to the hospital, while two others were treated as outpatients. The conditions of the three patients was not released, nor was information on the timing of their diagnoses.
The hospital is taking precautionary measures, including treating its water system and flushing its plumbing to remove any possible Legionella.
“Central DuPage Hospital is working with IDPH to strengthen its water-management plan and implement multiple control measures,” the IDPH statement read.
IDPH officials said they are planning another on-site visit to test the facility’s water.
“We are working closely with IDPH while also conducting an internal review to determine if these cases are related to hospital services,” Northwestern Medicine spokesperson Christopher King said in a statement. “The safety and health of our patients is our top priority. We will have no additional comments until the review is completed.”
Central DuPage Hospital – an acute-care facility with 390 beds – is one of seven hospitals operated by Northwestern Medicine.
Central DuPage Hospital: symptoms
While the risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease is low for most people, anyone with a chronic underlying condition is at an increased risk.
Out of an abundance of caution, you should seek care from your health-care provider if you are or were a patient at Central Dupage Hospital, an employee of, or recent visitor to the hospital and are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms.
Symptoms often can be mistaken for the common flu, and they usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. Initial symptoms usually include:
- muscle pains
- 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 known as dyspnea)
- chest pains (also known as pleurisy or pleuritis)
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- confusion and other mental changes.
Legionellosis is the collective term for the two diseases caused by Legionella bacteria: Legionnaires’ disease, which is also called Legionella pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a less-severe illness.
Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.
Central DuPage Hospital: vague diagnosis
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. 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, but because of the disease’s nonspecific symptoms, only 5,000 of those cases are reported.
Anyone can develop the disease, but those at the greatest 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.
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 blood stream and cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to 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.
Central DuPage Hospital: Chicago woes
The end of 2019 can’t come fast enough for Illinois hospitals. Central DuPage is the fifth hospital this year to deal with a Legionnaires’ outbreak. Previously, four other Chicago-area hospitals were investigated by the IDPH:
- In April, the department investigated two illnesses at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.
- In May, the IDPH reviewed two cases at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
- In June, four cases associated with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, a suburb of Chicago, were examined. One of the four was an employee.
- In July, the IDPH looked at Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park after two inpatients – one in May, the other in mid-July – were diagnosed with the disease.