Illinois Health officials have confirmed that a third patient has died after an outbreak of Legionnaires disease at a veterans’ home in Quincy, Illinois. The Adams County, Illinois, Health Department Director of Clinical and Environmental Services Shay Drummond said on Monday the health department is recommending that elderly people and anyone with immunity related illnesses not visit the veteran’s home. The source of the outbreak has not yet been determined, but healthcare officials said they believe it is contained to the veterans’ home.
Legionnaires’ disease is a serious form of pneumonia that is spread from aerosolized water that has Legionella bacteria. Legionella bacteria can grow in cooling towers, showers and other water sources. People already in poor health are the most vulnerable. Cruise ships and hotels are often identified as the sources in Legionnaires’ outbreaks. The bacterium was named after an outbreak in 1976, when several people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from this disease.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to many other forms of pneumonia, so it can be hard to diagnose at first. The symptoms of Legionnaires Disease can include a high fever, chills, and a cough. Some people may also suffer from muscle aches and headaches. Chest X-rays are needed to find the pneumonia caused by the bacteria, and other tests can be done on sputum (phlegm), as well as blood or urine to find evidence of the bacteria in the body.
The number of reported cases of Legionnaires Disease in the United States more than tripled between 2001 and 2012. The fatality rate is relatively low, between 5 to 30 percent. The CDC receives over 4,000 case reports of Legionnaires’ disease annually. However the CDC estimates that the disease actually infects between 8,000 and 18,000 people annually, many cases are not reported.
On Sunday, at least six inmates were confirmed to be ill with Legionnaires’ disease at San Quentin Prison in California and 51 others are under observation. The outbreak prompted the prison to halt all prisoner visitations and hot meals and limited drinking water supplies at the prison. The New York Health Department identified the source of the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in the South Bronx in July as a hotel cooling tower. In July, 2012, three people died following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a Chicago hotel. The Chicago Department of Public Health investigators determined that a decorative fountain in the J.W. Marriott Hotel’s main lobby was the primary source of the Legionnaires’ outbreak.
The CDC recommends that concerned parties wait for an outbreak before monitoring and disinfecting building water sources. In 1997, former Assistant U.S. Surgeon General Dr. J. Donald Millar, a staunch critic of the CDC’s approach to the prevention of Legionnaires’ disease warned that for diseases of environmental origin, proactive environmental surveillance, rather than reactive disease surveillance, is the appropriate prevention strategy.