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Illinois health officials are investigating a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a senior home in Plainfield, marking the fifth Legionnaires incident in the state this month, all of them affecting residents of retirement homes.
Two residents at Lakewood Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center (14716 South Eastern Avenue) were confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease, prompting an investigation by both the Will County Health Department (WCHD) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
Legionnaires’ disease – which is also known as legionellosis or Legionella pneumonia – is a respiratory illness that is contracted when people inhale microscopic aerosolized water droplets (vapor or mist) contaminated with Legionella.
Plainfield Legionnaires outbreak: IDPH recommendations
IDPH officials recommended that Lakewood Nursing conduct surveillance to identify other potential cases. They also suggested that the facility review its water-management plan, and take necessary steps to reduce exposure to aerosolized water, to wit:
- Restrict water use.
- Install point-of-use filters.
- Flush water through pipes and fixtures.
- Implement other protective measures.
“Although it is not clear that these environmental risks have come from Lakewood Nursing, as a safety precaution, we have implemented our water management program and environmental risk protocol,” consultant Ron Nunziato said in a statement. “In addition, this facility has been working with the County and State Departments for guidance, and a water specialist, for any assistance they may provide.”
Previously, it was learned that a deadly outbreak struck the Covenant Living at Windsor Park retirement home in Carol Stream. In that outbreak, two residents died and a third was sickened in the past eight months.
Earlier in January, two residents at Balmoral Nursing Home and one resident at The Admiral at the Lake were diagnosed with LD. The two North Side nursing homes are less than 2 miles apart in Chicago.
Plainfield Legionnaires outbreak: Seniors at risk
Senior living facilities are common locations for outbreaks because:
- They house at-risk populations.
- They often have large, elaborate water and plumbing systems, common delivery systems for Legionella.
- Residents have limited or no exposures to outside sources of the bacteria.
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.
Other people more susceptible include:
- organ-transplant recipients
- anyone on a specific drug protocol (corticosteroids, for instance)
The list also includes anyone with an immune system weakened because of:
- frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis or skin infections
- organ inflammation and infection
- blood disorders, such as low platelet counts or anemia
- digestive problems, such as cramping, appetite loss, diarrhea, and nausea
- delayed growth and development.
After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is almost always necessary – and, indeed, always necessary for people older than 50 years of age. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, and of course death.
Plainfield Legionnaires outbreak: National problem
Legionnaires’ disease is emerging “in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires in the United States continues to increase,” Laura Cooley of the CDC’s Respiratory Diseases Branch said in a 2017 interview.
Cooley said she believes the increase is due to the rise in the susceptibility of the population; that is, more and more people are on immunosuppressive medications. She also said there are likely more Legionella in the environment because warmer temperatures create the right conditions for bacterial growth.
Last year was the second-hottest in the 140 years that temperatures have been recorded, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. Atop the list is 2016.
As a matter of fact, the world’s five warmest years all have occurred since 2015, and nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.
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