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A Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Brookdale Vernon Hills senior living community center in suburban Chicago has increased after two new cases were identified.
Brookdale Vernon Hills is the sixth senior facility in Illinois being investigated for a legionellosis outbreak since the start of the year.
Five Brookdale Vernon Hills residents have been infected with bacterial pneumonia since the outbreak was first reported Feb. 3, when it was reported that a 92-year-old male had died, according to the Lake County Health Department (LCHD).
No additional information has been released on the remaining individuals who are or were sickened, so their current condition, ages, or genders are unknown.
Brookdale Vernon Hills is located at 145 North Milwaukee Avenue in north suburban Vernon Hills, about 37 miles north of the Chicago Loop.
Brookdale Vernon Hills: actions taken
Officials at the Brookdale Vernon Hills facility quickly responded by taking the following preventative measures:
- Water features have been shut off.
- The pool and spa have been closed.
- Shower heads have been cleaned throughout the facility.
- Point-of-use filters have been added wherever possible.
“We continue to follow the recommendations of a national water-treatment company regarding flushing water lines, cleaning shower heads, and adding point-of-use filters,” Mitch Kline, the senior public relations specialist for Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living, stated in an email.
“Our associates have been trained in the correct protocols to minimize the chance of exposure to the Legionella bacteria and to monitor residents for signs and symptoms of illness.”
Brookdale Senior Living is working with the LCHD and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), trying to locate the possible source(s) of the outbreak.
Brookdale Vernon Hills: LD symptoms
If you are a resident of, an employee of, or a recent visitor to Brookdale Vernon Hills and are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms, you should seek care from your health-care provider immediately. Symptoms often can be mistaken for those of the common flu.
The disease often is overlooked or undiagnosed, leading to the condition being underreported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For the disease to be classified correctly, specific testing and diagnosis must be done from a Legionnaires’ disease standpoint, and those tests often are not ordered. (It’s not required for physicians to order Legionella-specific testing when a patient presents with pneumonia.)
Initial symptoms 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 called dyspnea
- chest pains, also called pleurisy or pleuritis
- 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. Untreated Legionnaires’ disease usually worsens during the first week, which is why early diagnosis is key to recovery.
Brookdale Vernon Hills: possible sources
“The way people get exposed to (Legionella) is it’s in the water,” Mike Adam, deputy director of environmental health for the LCHD, told the Chicago Tribune. “But it’s aerosolized, so it somehow gets up in the air and people breathe it in.
“While the disease isn’t uncommon, it can be dangerous and potentially fatal for (senior citizens). But on the other hand, residents at the Vernon Hills senior center rarely leave the facility, so it can help officials identify the source easier.”
Adam said county officials are awaiting test results that can help them better determine the source.
Legionnaires’ disease – which is also known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia – is a respiratory illness that is contracted when people inhale microscopic, aerosolized water droplets (vapor or mist) that are spread by showers, faucets, swimming pools, hot tubs, or decorative fountains, to name just a few.
Legionella bacteria thrive in warm water and are found primarily in human-made environments. Other potential breeding grounds include:
- water systems of large buildings (nursing homes, hospitals, hotels, etc.)
- large plumbing systems
- air-conditioning system cooling towers
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers.
Brookdale Vernon Hills: Illinois woes
Other senior facilities to report a LD issue to the IDPH in 2020 include the following:
- Jan. 27: Two residents at Lakewood Nursing in Plainfield were sickened.
- Jan. 18: The Covenant Living at Windsor Park retirement home in Carol Stream reported that two residents died, and a third was sickened, in the past eight months.
- Jan. 16: Meadowbrook Manor in Bolingbrook confirmed one illness.
- Jan. 10: Two residents at Balmoral Nursing Home and one resident at The Admiral at the Lake were diagnosed with the respiratory illness.