Legionnaires’ disease has sickened 45 people and is to blame for seven deaths at Quincy’s Illinois Veterans Home, and we can expect to see the number of those affected climb, according to local health officials.
In a live interview Wednesday morning, Shay Drummond, with Adams County Health Department, discussed the outbreak on the grounds with WGEM’s Greg Haubrich. She says the numbers of affected cases is a total number of everyone on the grounds, but said she couldn’t specify how many of these people are residents and how many are staff members or others, citing privacy laws.
Legionnaires’ comes from the Legionella bacteria, which grows in warm water. Legionnaires’ can usually be traced back to plumbing systems with dark, moist, warm environments, where the bacteria grows best.
"Places such as cooling towers, condensers and chillers for air conditioning systems, hot water tanks, sprayer heads, faucets, those types of areas," Drummond said.
The bacteria can also be to blame for Pontiac fever, which displays similar symptoms, which aren’t as severe as Legionnaires’.
Officials continue to try to figure out what is causing the outbreak, but still haven’t located the source of the bacteria.
"Certainly there’s a water source that’s involved in this," Drummond said. "In order to get infected, the person has to inhale water vapors that are contaminated with very fine droplets of the bacteria in those droplets and it goes directly into their lungs and that’s what makes them sick."
Drummond says people should stay away from the veterans home.
"At this time, there’s a number of reasons why I would suggest postponing your visit," Drummond said. "One; The staff has been working around the clock to care for their residents that are ill. They have a lot of people on campus working on the remediations and the outbreak, so it’s a very busy time, and individuals that are over 50 that are smokers, or that have any sort of immune-compromised system, they’re potentially more susceptible, so we’re just suggesting people not put themselves in that position and not put any more stress on staff out there working so hard to take care of their residents."
For those who have visited the home, whether it be visiting a family member, or just walking the grounds, Drummond says there’s no concern unless they experience symptoms.
"We don’t want to overwhelm the healthcare system if somebody says, ‘Well I drove by there; Maybe I should get tested,’" Drummond said.
But Drummond says those with pneumonia-like symptoms, who have been on the grounds in the last couple of weeks, should tell their doctor.
"There’s testing that can be done to determine if it is Legionella," Drummond said. "It’s important to get that test done because there’s specific antibiotics that can treat it."
Drummond says Legionnaires’ disease actually shows up every year in Adams County.
"Historically, in our area, Illinois for example, there’s about 200 cases of Legionella reported annually, but here in Adams County, if you look at our reporting of Legionella over the last three or four years, it’s probably one to two cases a year and there can be community cases out there that are not linked to any sort of an outbreak," Drummond said.
Drummond says the bacteria can show up anywhere, and there are things people can maintain on a routine basis to try to keep from getting sick.
"Maintenance of all of your water systems and your heating and air conditioning, shower head," Drummond explained. "That should be an ongoing part of your home. Certainly, if you’re a business or a large commercial building, there’s water management plans for large buildings that should be constantly maintained and monitored."
So what’s next?
Drummond says it wouldn’t be unusual for the numbers to keep climbing before they start going down.
"We do have that incubation period of two to 14 days," Drummond said. "If we removed the source of contact, we still have that 14-day window of opportunity where individuals may present the signs and symptoms."
But Drummond says there’s hope.
"Half of the individuals hospitalized have returned home, so we’re seeing a decrease of hospitalized cases," Drummond said. "We’re also seeing an increased wellness of those that present with mild symptoms, so we’re seeing a positive shift, but unfortunately outbreaks like this take time to resolve."
Drummond says people with questions can contact the health department or their healthcare providers.