Illinois senior living facilities continue to battle Legionnaires’ disease as the Brookdale Vernon Hills retirement home became the sixth to report an outbreak in 2020.
Health officials confirmed that one person has died and two others were sickened at the Lake County retirement community, which is in Vernon Hills, about 35 miles north of the Chicago Loop along Interstate Highway 94.
Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department, confirmed that his office received reports of three cases of Legionnaires’ disease at Brookdale Vernon Hills. Pfister said the LCHD is “working with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Brookdale staff to investigate potential sources of contamination and to identify individuals who may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria.”
Said LCHD epidemiologist Sana Ahmed: “We urge any residents and visitors of the Brookdale facility who are currently experiencing pneumonia symptoms – cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, and fever – to see a doctor right away for testing. Early treatment of Legionnaires’ disease reduces the severity of the illness and improves your chances for recovery.”
Vernon Hills Legionnaires outbreak: found ‘unresponsive’
Bernard Stewart, 92, was identified by his daughters Tamara Stewart and Sue Franz as the resident who died.
Tamara Stewart told Chicago’s WGN-TV, “They found him on the floor of his apartment totally unresponsive.”
Bernard Stewart was rushed to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, where physicians initially thought he was suffering from pneumonia. Said Franz: “They didn’t know what it was until, I think, Sunday when he passed away.”
Lab results confirmed that Bernard Stewart was infected with Legionnaires’ disease.
Vernon Hills Legionnaires outbreak: large corporation
Brookdale Senior Living has 750 senior living communities in 45 states, including 14 in Illinois. Brookdale Vernon Hills is located at 145 North Milwaukee Avenue. None of the other Illinois facilities are affected by this outbreak.
A source of the Legionella bacteria has yet to be identified, a spokesperson said. She confirmed the company has closed the building’s pool and spa and turned off all drinking fountains. Workers have flushed water lines, cleaned showerheads, and added water filters.
Vernon Hills Legionnaires outbreak: potential sources
“We are looking at water features within the facility that harbor Legionella bacteria,” LCHD deputy director Michael Adam said. “When it gets into these water systems, it likes warm water and areas where water is stagnant, so we look at the entire distribution system.”
A person contracts Legionella by inhaling microscopic water droplets (mist or vapor). The bacteria thrive in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:
- water systems of large buildings (nursing homes, hospitals, hotels, etc.)
- air-conditioning system cooling towers
- large plumbing systems
- hot-water heaters and tanks
- bathroom showers and faucets
- physical-therapy equipment
- swimming pools, whirlpools, hot tubs
- mist machines and hand-held sprayers
- decorative fountains.
Vernon Hills Legionnaires outbreak: LD symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease, which usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria, generally begins with these symptoms:
- severe headaches
- muscle aches
- fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and chills.
By the second or third day, symptoms worsen to include:
- coughing, which can bring up mucus or blood
- dyspnea (shortness of breaths)
- pleuritic chest pains (pleurisy or pleuritis)
- gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting)
- confusion and other mental changes.
Vernon Hills Legionnaires outbreak: seniors at risk
Anyone can develop Legionnaires’ disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:
- senior citizens (anyone 50 years old or older)
- smokers (current or former)
- people with chronic lung disease, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, most commonly bronchitis or emphysema)
- people with compromised immune systems
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