The illnesses occurred between mid-August and early September at Summit Commons (99 Hillside Avenue). Test results taken after the illnesses were diagnosed showed elevated levels of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
“What happens is, unfortunately, when we see a lot of cases of Legionnaires’ disease, it tends to be in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes,” Joseph Wendelken, RIDOH public information officer, told WPRI 12 News. “You have a very vulnerable population.”
Wendelken also said that the bacteria that caused the illnesses is localized, and the wider public is not at risk. Because of health privacy laws, he would not release any additional information on the patients.
Summit Commons: remediation
Summit Commons outlined its remediation efforts to eradicate Legionella in a letter addressed to residents, family and visitors. In the letter, officials said Summit Commons has:
- installed water filters on all sinks and showers;
- distributed bottled water for drinking;
- given bed baths to minimize the risk of infection;
- treated the water system with chlorine to remove Legionella;
- and performed several rounds of testing to evaluate the remediation efforts and identify sources of Legionella.
“The health and well-being of our residents is always our primary concern, and thus we feel it best to take these steps to ensure their well-being,” a Summit Commons official wrote.
Summit Commons: 2nd in 2 months
Summit Commons is the state’s second care facility since the beginning of August to report a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. In August, Bristol-based Saint Elizabeth Manor, a skilled nursing and rehab center, confirmed two cases of Legionnaires’ disease. Saint Elizabeth Manor is approximately 20 miles from Summit Commons.
Last year, there were approximately 50 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Rhode Island.
Anyone who has been to Summit Commons recently – residents, employees, and visitors – and has suffered from or is currently suffering from pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms should seek attention from their health-care provider.
Summit Commons: Legionnaires’ FAQs
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is also called 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.
What are the symptoms?
The disease’s symptoms resemble those of pneumonia, and even influenza (flu), and can include:
- shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- muscle pains
- severe headaches
- gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).
Who is most at risk?
Anyone can come down with Legionnaires’ disease, but those most susceptible to infection include:
- people 50 years old or older
- smokers, current and former
- people with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is an umbrella term that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma
- heavy drinkers of alcohol
- people with weakened immune systems
- organ-transplant recipients
- people on specific drug protocols (for example, corticosteroids).
How prevalent is the disease?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25,000 Americans are sickened yearly by pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila). Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.
Additionally, 10 percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.
How are Legionella contracted?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (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:
- water systems, like those used in nursing homes, hospitals, and hotels
- swimming pools, hot tubs and whirlpools
- physical-therapy equipment
- bathroom showers and faucets
- large plumbing systems
- cooling towers of air conditioning systems
- hot water heaters and tanks
- mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
- hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.