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Illinois senior living facilities continue to struggle with Legionnaires’ disease as Brookdale Vernon Hills became the sixth to report an outbreak in 2020.
Health officials confirmed that one person has died and two others were sickened by the pneumonia-like respiratory illness. The Lake County retirement community is located in Vernon Hills, which is about 35 miles north of the Chicago Loop along Interstate Highway 94.
Lake County Health Department executive director Mark Pfister acknowledged his office received reports of three cases of Legionnaires’ disease at Brookdale Vernon Hills.
The LCHD is “working with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Brookdale staff to investigate potential sources of contamination and to identify individuals who may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria,” Pfister said.
Dr. Sana Ahmed, LCHD epidemiologist, said: “We urge any residents and visitors of the Brookdale facility who are currently experiencing pneumonia symptoms – cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, and fever – to see a doctor right away for testing. Early treatment of Legionnaires’ disease reduces the severity of the illness and improves your chances for recovery.”
Vernon Hills outbreak: ‘unresponsive’
Bernard Stewart, 92, was identified by his daughters Tamara Stewart and Sue Franz as the resident who passed away.
“They found him on the floor of his apartment totally unresponsive,” Tamara Stewart told Chicago’s WGN-TV.
Bernard Stewart was rushed to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where physicians initially thought he was suffering from pneumonia.
“They didn’t know what it was until, I think, Sunday when he passed away,” Franz said.
Lab results confirmed that he was infected with Legionnaires’ disease.
Vernon Hills outbreak: symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria. It frequently begins with the following symptoms:
- muscle pains
- fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
By the second or third day, other symptoms develop, including:
- cough, which can bring up mucus and sometimes blood
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- confusion and other mental changes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one out of every 10 people (10 percent) infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from the illness.
Vernon Hills outbreak: most at risk
Anyone can get 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.
When Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed in a senior citizen, hospitalization is always required.
Vernon Hills outbreak: large corporation
Brookdale Senior Living has 750 senior living communities in 45 states, including 14 in Illinois. Brookdale Vernon Hills is located at 145 North Milwaukee Avenue. None of the other Illinois facilities are affected by this outbreak.
The senior living community notified residents, the residents’ contacts, and staff about the outbreak.
A source of the Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, has yet to be identified, a Brookdale Senior Living spokesperson said. She confirmed the company has closed the building’s pool and spa and turned off all drinking fountains. Workers have flushed water lines, cleaned showerheads, and added water filters in the facility.
Vernon Hills outbreak: possible sources
“We are looking at water features within the facility that harbor Legionella bacteria,” LCHD deputy director Michael Adam said. “When it gets into these water systems, it likes warm water and areas where water is stagnant, so we look at the entire distribution system.”
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:
- water systems of large buildings (nursing homes, hospitals, hotels, etc.)
- air-conditioning system cooling towers
- large plumbing systems
- 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.