Both patients, who are out-of-state residents, share one common trait: Both stayed at the Embassy Suites at 600 North State Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.
The illnesses were confirmed by a laboratory. Both patients have been treated and released; one was diagnosed in mid-August, the other early this month.
Embassy Suites officials are cooperating fully with the investigation, and CDPH officials said there is no risk to the public. Hotel officials said they have started the process of notifying thousands of guests who stayed there during the time frame of the illnesses.
“We’ve been working with this hotel very closely since we heard about it,” CDPH commissioner Dr. Julie Morita told WLS-TV. “They’ve taken appropriate actions and have shut down any potential sources of this bacteria.”
Chicago Embassy Suites: remediation begun
At the recommendation of the CDPH, the hotel has started remediation efforts by closing all water features: pool, hot tub, and fountain. The hotel also has disinfected its water system.
An alert on the Embassy Suite’s website states: “Our fitness center and pool will be undergoing maintenance September 4-November 30, 2018. One of our meeting rooms will house a temporary fitness center during this time.”
The CDPH has begun environmental testing at the property to determine whether it is the source of the Legionella bacteria that sickened the two guests. Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (mist or vapor).
“Our primary concern is always the safety and well-being of our guests and employees,” Embassy Suites officials wrote in a statement. “We are working closely with the city and are taking all appropriate steps as directed.”
However, one guest interviewed by WLS-TV said they were not notified about the situation when they checked in.
Chicago Embassy Suites: public alerted
The CDPH has recommended that anyone who has stayed at the hotel since early August or travels in its vicinity should be alert for signs of illness. All employees also have been alerted.
Because the disease’s incubation period – the amount of time between breathing in the bacteria and developing symptoms – can be as much as 16 days, an infected person might not have begun presenting symptoms. The average incubation period is two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria.
If you are feeling flu-like symptoms (see below), it is recommended you make an appointment to see your health-care provider immediately.
“We are working to help prevent additional people from becoming sick,” Morita said. “Individuals who believe they may have been exposed and who develop symptoms should contact their provider.”
Chicago Embassy Suites: symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms look like other forms of pneumonia or even flu (influenza). That’s why so many cases go unreported every year.
Early symptoms generally include the following:
- chills and fever, which can be 104 degrees or higher
- severe headaches
- loss of appetite
- muscle pains.
After the first few days, symptoms can worsen to include:
- pleuritic chest pain (pain when breathing because of inflamed lungs)
- difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- mental confusion and agitation
- coughing, which can bring up mucus and blood
- diarrhea (about one-third of all cases result in gastrointestinal problems that also include nausea and vomiting).
(Note: There is a mild form of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever, which can produce similar symptoms: fever, chills, headache, muscle aches. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually clear within two to five days.)
Chicago Embassy Suites: more on Legionnaires
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia – infects about 25,000 Americans yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
Additionally, about 10 percent of patients infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.
Sources for Legionella
Legionella bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to numerous sources, including but not limited to:
- water systems (hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.)
- swimming pools, hot tubs and whirlpools
- decorative fountains
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- large plumbing systems
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- bathroom showers and faucets
- physical-therapy equipment
- mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
- hand-held sprayers.
Legionnaires’ disease also can be contracted by the aspiration of contaminated drinking water – that is, a person chokes or coughs while drinking, causing the water to go down the wrong pipe and into the lungs. That, however, happens very rarely.
Anybody can get sick from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:
- people with chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema
- people 50 or older
- smokers (current and former)
- heavy drinkers of alcohol
- people with compromised immune systems (anyone suffering from conditions such as diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, or infected with HIV)
- organ-transplant recipients (kidney, heart, etc.)
- individuals following specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, for example).