New legionnaires’ death said to be unrelated to veterans’ home outbreak

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QUNICY, IL (KPLR) - On top of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a Quincy, IL veterans home, Illinois health authorities now report four confirmed cases that include one death among community members.  To date there is nothing that links them to the veterans’ home cases.

That has added to the workload for dozens of local, state and national health experts working to pinpoint the cause of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois State Veterans’ Home in Quincy.  Seven people from the 400 resident facility have died from the illness since mid-August.

So far 45 residents have confirmed cases of Legionnaires.  It is a pneumonia like respiratory disease that produces a high fever. It usually strikes elderly individuals, smokers and those with existing respiratory problems.

As of Wednesday no residents with the illness had been admitted to a hospital in the past 72 hours.  The outbreak there is baffling.  “I’ve worked here thirty years and this is the first time it has happened,” said Cathy Houston the Director of Nursing at the Veterans’ Home.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ thrives in hot summer.  “Legionella bacteria likes to live in warm water so as water stands in pipes and as temperatures increase there is a more likelihood for that bacteria to grow,” said Shay Drummond the Director of Clinical and Environmental Services for Adams County Wednesday.

Once the water becomes a vapor and is inhaled the bacteria can begin to cause illness.  Cooling towers that are part of commercial air conditioning systems, fountains and showers are often suspected sources for the disease.

You can inhale the bacteria laden vapor either indoors or outside.  However, Legionnaires’ cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

It can be particularly difficult to determine where the bacteria came from because institutions fighting an outbreak often treat plumbing and equipment before health experts can collect samples for testing.

CDC epidemiologist Matthew Westercamp is working the Quincy outbreak.  He said the reason for the intense effort at the Veterans’ Home is the age and delicate health of the residents.

“The water has been turned off at this facility for almost a week now, but they are going through and testing the actual lines to see if they can find the bacteria there,” Westercamp explained.

Bottled water has been brought in for drinking and oral hygiene.  Special shower heads will be installed that block the bacteria from escaping the shower head in a vapor.

Drinking the water won’t cause the illness, but inhaling contaminated water vapor can.  Some of the plumbing in the residential buildings is more than 100 years old.

Next week engineers and water experts plan to flush the water system in multi-building facility with chlorine.  Cooling towers at the home have been cleaned twice and will be cleaned a third time.  There is regular testing of the cooling towers that goes on each week to be sure they remain bacteria free.