The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) are actively monitoring residents at the Veterans’ Home in LaSalle in light of recent cases of respiratory illness. Over the past several months, three people in LaSalle County, including one Home resident, have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia. The other two cases did not have contact with the Home. Approximately 300 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported across Illinois last year.
There has been a heightened awareness in the veterans’ community about pneumonia and Legionnaires’ disease, which has led to more testing for the bacteria. Currently, 14 residents of the Home have become ill with respiratory illness, 11 of whom have been diagnosed with pneumonia. One of the residents who had pneumonia and suffered from underlying health conditions also tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease. The elderly resident has since passed away. At least seven of the 11 pneumonia cases have tested negative for Legionnaires’ disease and test results for the other residents are pending.
“We are very concerned about our residents and staff at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home and we are continuing to implement every necessary precaution to ensure the health and safety of all. That is our top priority,” said IDVA Assistant Director Harry Sawyer.
As a precaution, IDPH and IDVA are doubling efforts at the Home. The Home is installing water filtering shower heads, is removing faucet aerators, and has taken ice-machines off-line for cleaning. Environmental health officials are reviewing logs showing incoming water quality as well as site plans to identify where the ill residents are located. A water management team has been operating at the Home for the past six months using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toolkit to address Legionella bacteria, which includes flushing water pipes, monitoring the water temperature, and ensuring appropriate chlorine levels.
“IDPH is working with IDVA and local health officials to quickly identify any residents with respiratory illness to make sure they receive immediate medical care,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “IDPH will continue to work with its state and local partners to try to identify potential sources of the Legionella bacteria and prevent future illnesses.”
Legionella bacteria grow in areas of warm water and are often present in water supplies. The goal of our efforts is to reduce concentrations of the bacteria to a level that protects the health of residents and staff. In order to be infected with the bacteria, a person must inhale contaminated water mist. Legionnaires’ disease is not typically transmitted person-to-person. Common water sources include decorative fountains, hot tubs, shower areas, and cooling towers. Generally Legionella bacteria do not cause harm, but the bacteria pose a larger threat to those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.
IDVA and IDPH will continue to work with the LaSalle County Health Department and other health officials to protect the health of residents and staff.