Elliot Olsen has regained millions for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member were sickened in this Lake County outbreak, please call Elliot at (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Testing by Lake County health officials uncovered Legionella bacteria in four locations in the facility where five residents have been sickened – one fatally – with Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease – known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia – is a respiratory illness contracted when people inhale microscopic, aerosolized water droplets (vapor or mist) containing Legionella. The bacteria is spread by showers, faucets, swimming pools, hot tubs, or decorative fountains, to name just a few potential sources.

The Lake County Health Department (LCHD) confirmed that Legionella was detected in “one apartment, a pool filter, an irrigation system, and a decorative water fountain” at Brookdale Vernon Hills.  The samples were collected on Feb. 5, before the facility executed preventive measures.

Brookdale Vernon Hills is a senior retirement community with independent and assisted living options, located at 145 North Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills.

Lake County outbreak: Legionella

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Legionella occur naturally in freshwater environments, such as lakes and streams. Generally, the low amounts of the bacteria in freshwater do not lead to disease.

Legionella, however, can pose a health risk when the bacteria get into building water. To do this, Legionella grow and then spread through small water droplets (aerosolization) that people can inhale.

A variety of internal and external factors can lead to a Legionella problem in a building, including:

  • construction
  • water main breaks
  • changes in municipal water quality
  • biofilm (a collective of one or more types of microorganisms that can grow on many different surfaces)
  • scale and sediment
  • water temperature fluctuations
  • pH fluctuations
  • inadequate levels of disinfectant
  • changes in water pressure
  • water stagnation.

Some of the precautions the facility has taken to combat the issue include:

  • Thermal disinfection and hyperclorination has been performed for the entire water system.
  • 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.

Lake County outbreak: symptoms

Even though there have been no reports of new illnesses in the past week, residents, employees, or recent visitors to Brookdale Vernon Hills still are being urged to seek care from their health-care provider if they are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms.

Because of its vague symptoms – it often seems like flu or pneumonia at the outset – the disease often is overlooked or undiagnosed, leading to the condition being underreported, according to the 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:

  • 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 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.

Lake County outbreak: LD on the rise

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the number of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the state has increased yearly since 2010 (except for 2014. Deaths attributed to the disease also have increased every year during that same period (except for 2016):

  • 2010: 149 confirmed cases and 9 deaths
  • 2011: 151 cases, 10 deaths
  • 2012: 226 cases, 15 deaths
  • 2013: 299 cases, 23 deaths
  • 2014: 251 cases, 27 deaths
  • 2015: 315 cases, 34 deaths
  • 2016: 318 cases, 25 deaths
  • 2017: 332 cases, 29 deaths
  • 2018: 510 cases, 41 deaths
  • 2019: 612 cases, 43 deaths (Note: Data is provisional as of Feb. 24, 2020, and subject to change.)

Thus far in 2020, there have been 27 LD cases and two deaths reported statewide.