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Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in Illinois’ Champaign County since September 15, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (C-UPHD).

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said investigators believe the residents sickened may have participated in recent wedding activities and are looking at three venues, including First Christian Church in Champaign, as possible sources for Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. The identities of the other two sites were not revealed.

C-UPHD administrator Julie Pryde said, however, that only three of the six people who contracted Legionnaires’ disease had contact with the church. She said the suspected source there is a decorative water fountain that has been turned off.

Water features can be a source of Legionella because if the water becomes infected, the bacteria can become aerosolized and people breathe it in, Pryde said.

No additional information was released on the people who were sickened.

Champaign County: more woes for Illinois

This is not the first time this year that Legionnaires’ disease has made headlines in Illinois. To wit:

  • In September, two guests of the Embassy Suites (600 N. State St.) in downtown Chicago were confirmed with the disease.
  • During the summer, officials in McHenry County – about 70 miles northwest of Chicago – investigated a cluster in which nine people were sickened between June 7 and July 1.
  • In January, it was learned that the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ) experienced a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak for the fourth consecutive year after a fourth resident contracted the disease. There were six confirmed cases at IVHQ in 2017, and one victim died. That outbreak increased the number of Legionnaires-induced deaths at the facility to 13 since 2015. (There were more than 50 illnesses and 12 deaths during a 2015 outbreak.)

The IDPH reports that there are more than 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported in the state yearly. There were 332 Legionnaires cases confirmed in 2017, and 318 in 2016.

Six ill with Legionnaires in Illinois' Champaign County

Six cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in Illinois’ Champaign County since September 15, health officials announced. (Pictured: Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana)

Champaign County: disease FAQs

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of lung infection that is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early.

If not diagnosed early, however, the disease can lead to severe complications, and it can become lethal. It is not contagious.

Statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an estimated 25,000 annual cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) in the United States. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia and can even resemble those of influenza (flu):

  • shortness of breath, or dyspnea
  • coughing
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.).

Who is at risk for illness?
Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the IDPH, told The News-Gazette that “most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to Legionella bacteria. Individuals at increased risk of developing Legionnaire’s disease include those older than 50, or who have certain risk factors, such as being a current or former smoker, having a chronic disease or having a weakened immune system.”

Other categories of people most susceptible to infection include:

  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • anyone on a specific drug protocols, such as corticosteroids.

Where do Legionella come from?
Legionella bacteria can grow in many parts of a building’s water system, and certain devices can spread contaminated water droplets. Some examples of devices where Legionella can grow and spread through aerosolization or aspiration (water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking) include:

  • cooling towers
  • hot- and cold-water tanks
  • water heaters
  • shower heads and hoses
  • faucets, both electronic and manual
  • ice machines
  • hot tubs
  • medical equipment, such as CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment, bronchoscopes, etc.
  • faucet flow restrictors
  • water filters
  • pipes, valves, and fittings
  • aerators
  • centrally installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
  • non-stream aerosol-generating humidifiers
  • water hammer arrestors
  • expansion tanks
  • infrequently used equipment, including eyewash stations
  • decorative fountains.