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Church Wedding Legionnaires Outbreak

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on November 6, 2018

For most of us, we fully expect (or expected) our wedding to be one of the most magical days on earth. We painstakingly planned, spent more money that we intended to, and invited our closest, dearest friends in the effort to create an utterly perfect day. Unfortunately for brides everywhere, the perfect wedding is far from possible. Mistakes occur, such as forgotten details, unexpected nerves, misplaced vendors, or an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. While that might sound like a crazy curveball, just recently six residents of the Champaign, Illinois area were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in an outbreak that was directly linked to a church wedding. Here’s the story about this Church Wedding Legionnaires Outbreak.

While plenty of people certainly attended the church wedding, six people left with a Legionnaires’ infection. The residents were all diagnosed since the 15th of September this year, and one of the sources that was thought most likely to have caused the disease was the First Christian Church in Champaign, Illinois. According to state health officials, all the sickened people were involved in wedding festivities at that precise church. Since Legionnaires disease is not a contagious disease, and rather is spread when a person inhales bacteria that travels through water and water vapor, authorities had to find a source of water vapor that was contaminated with the bacteria. Fountains, cooling towers, showers, sinks, and any other source of aerosol water is capable of contamination and therefore infection.

300 cases of Legionnaires disease plague Illinois every year, 115 have occurred in Missouri so far this year which is close to the yearly average, and anywhere from 200 to 800 cases occur in New York. The Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, a single home, has seen 14 people killed to Legionnaires’ disease and 70 people sickened, all since 2015. Legionnaires is a serious disease and is highly capable of killing its victims, especially those with preexisting health conditions, weakened immune systems, or those who do not receive treatment right away.

Legionnaires Q&A

If you don’t wholly understand the disease, it’s symptoms, or how to get treatment, consider these frequently asked questions:

Q: What is Legionnaires’ disease?

A: Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia. Since pneumonia is a generic term used to identify any type of lung infection, Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection, though it has some other side effects. This disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella, and it was originally discovered back in 1976 when a great many attendees of an American Legion convention in a Philadelphia hotel came down with the same illness. Legionnaires’ disease has a 10-20% mortality rate and is especially harmful amongst vulnerable populations, such as people older than 50, smokers, people with previous lung infections, other health issues, and compromised immune systems. Men tend to be more susceptible to the disease than women for reasons unknown.

Q: What are Legionnaires’ disease symptoms?

A: Noting the symptoms of this disease is key. It typically begins by appearing much like the common flu. Patients tend to report a high fever, muscle pain, chills, and headaches. The development of a couch, shortness of breath, and chest pain are also more severe symptoms.

Q: Where can Legionella bacteria be found?

A: This type of bacteria is found it water. It’s known to reside in warm ponds and creeks, but it can contaminate water systems beyond the outdoors. Air conditioning systems, hot water tanks, fountains, hot tubs, showers, condensers, cooling towers common in tall buildings along the East Coast have all been known to house the bacteria in the past. It’s important to note that the bacteria is also able to roam freely throughout municipal water systems. The process of contamination–how the bacteria get disseminated through a building and then cause disease–remains someone unknown still, even to disease experts. However, the disease commonly causes outbreaks in hospitals, hotels and cruise ships.

Q: How does it spread?

A: This disease is non-contagious. An individual becomes infected after inhaling water vapor (in the form of mist, vapor, or steam) that is contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Some used to think that drinking water contaminated with the bacteria is what caused the disease, but this is not the case. Even in the first known Legionnaires’ outbreak in Philadelphia, a few residents who simply walked by the convention hotel became sick without having any water. That being said, if one is drinking water contaminated with Legionella bacteria and they cough, and if a little bit of water “goes down the wrong pipe” and into the lungs, it is possible to contract Legionnaires disease.

Q: What constitutes an outbreak?

A: It only takes two cases of Legionnaires’ disease to occur around the same place, around the same time for it to be considered an outbreak. Since a source is difficult to impossible to determine if just a single case of Legionnaires’ disease occurs, an investigation normally doesn’t begin until at least two cases occur.  Generally in an investigation, disease experts strive to discovered common environmental exposures for any and everyone who has gotten sick.

Q: How is an outbreak contained?

A: Legionella bacteria infects people by first infecting water. This means that the water must be cleaned in order to contain an outbreak. Thankfully, water that’s contaminated with the bacteria can quickly be treated with chlorine, or it can be heated to high temperatures in order to kill any of the bacteria. Air conditioners, water fountains, hot water tanks, showers, and more can all be disinfected as well in order to eliminate any chance of further infections.

Q: How common is Legionnaires’ disease?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized due to Legionnaires’ disease every year in the United States alone. Many more than these reported thousands are most likely infected, though have milder symptoms and never receive a diagnosis. Late summer and early fall is the time when most outbreaks to occur.

Q: How is the disease treated?

A: Antibiotics are normally used to battle the infection and tend to be extraordinarily successful in treating most cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

By: Abbey Ryan Elder, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)