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The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced that it is investigating an outbreak of two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at an Albert Lea senior community, St. John’s Fountain Lake.

The first illness was reported in early June. The patient was subsequently hospitalized and released.

The second illness was reported July 19 to the MDH. The patient’s condition is unknown.

Neither the ages nor the genders of the two people sickened were released.

St. John’s Fountain Lake: young facility

St. John’s Fountain Lake opened last October. The facility is located near Edgewater Park on Fountain Lake. According to its website, it was “specially designed to be a home for seniors that need various levels of care at different times in their lives.”

Those various levels of care include: independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing care, and short-term care.

St. John's Fountain Lake Legionnaires' outbreak

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at an Albert Lea senior community, St. John’s Fountain Lake.

St. John’s Fountain Lake: investigation

The Albert Lea senior community is being assisted in its investigation by not only the MDH but also Freeborn County Public Health, the city of Albert Lea and other agencies.

Kathy Como-Sabettitold, epidemiologist supervisor for the MDH, told the Albert Lea Tribune that the investigation is focusing on the premises, including plumbing and cooling tower.

“MDH is working with St. John’s Fountain Lake to identify possible sources of Legionella and has recommended that facility management work with a consultant to test and remediate those sources as needed,” the MDH said in a statement. “In the meantime, MDH is recommending a number of protective measures to minimize the chance for residents to be exposed to any Legionella bacteria.”

St. John’s Fountain Lake: remediation

Innovational Concepts, Inc., has been hired by St. John’s Fountain Lake to assess the water systems, and Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories has been hired to test the samples. Work is expected to begin immediately.

Tests taken in June of the facility’s cooling tower were negative for the presence of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a spokesperson said.

St. John’s Fountain Lake: warnings

St. John’s Fountain Lake residents have been warned:

  • Do not drink the water.
  • Do not use the ice machines or water sprayers.
  • Take only sponge baths.

The warnings will stand until contractors have completed remediation and testing shows conclusively that the facility is safe.

St. John’s Fountain Lake: disease info

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is similar to other types of pneumonia, which is an infection of the air sacs in one or both lungs that might produce fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms can resemble flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • cough
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.).

Contracting Legionella
Legionella bacteria are contracted when a person inhales microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of vapor or mist. The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments.

Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources, including but not limited to:

  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems
  • plumbing systems of large facilities
  • water systems, like those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels, to name a few
  • bathroom faucets and showers
  • hot water heaters and tanks
  • swimming pools
  • whirlpools and hot tubs
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • hand-held sprayers
  • mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
  • decorative fountains.

A person also can contract Legionella when they “aspirate” contaminated drinking water – that is, they choke or cough while drinking, which causes the water to go down the wrong pipe and into the lungs. That is a very rare occurrence, however.

High-risk categories
Anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • people on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, etc.).

An estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur each year, 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.

About 10 percent of people who become ill with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.