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Grand Rapids Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on August 8, 2023

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is currently investigating a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak cluster with five confirmed cases so far. So far no environmental source has been linked to this Grand Rapids Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. The nature of this illness also lends to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis, specific tests are required to confirm Legionella bacteria infection. There could potentially be additional cases in this outbreak. The investigation is ongoing.

The Outbreak

So far, five Legionnaires’ disease cases have been linked. All adults. All were serious enough to require hospitalization. All became ill between the end of April and middle of July. There have been no deaths associated with the cluster at this time.

The Department considers this a cluster because all affected patients lived in or spent time in the same general area – Grand Rapids Minnesota, during the two weeks before falling ill. Despite the information gathered by patient interviews, that is as close as investigators are to determining an environmental source for now.

Additional information may develop as more cases come forward.

Patient interviews are key in the investigation process. Finding out where people have been, what they have done, and a timeline can help connect the dots and indicate a common source.

But how is it spread?

Legionnaires’ Disease is Spread by Water Droplets

Legionnaires’ disease is the illness caused by breathing in aerosolized water containing Legionella bacteria. These tiny water droplets can hold the microscopic bacteria, allowing it to enter the lungs when breathed in.

It is a type of bacterial pneumonia that is often confused with other types of pneumonia, as symptoms are quite similar.

Legionnaires’ disease is not communicable, and cannot be spread from person to person, except in very rare in specific circumstances. Nor is it spread by drinking contaminated water. This illness is caused by inhaling bacteria from a contaminated water source.

So, what are some of the typical sources?

Potential Sources

Legionella bacteria is naturally found in freshwater environments. Places like lakes and streams. It doesn’t become a problem until it finds its way into human-made water systems, particularly inside buildings.

Common sources of Legionella infection include:

  • Large, complex plumbing systems
  • Cooling towers (often used in air conditioning systems for large buildings or industrial processes)
  • Hot water tanks and heaters
  • Decorative fountains and water features
  • Hot tubs
  • Showerheads and sink faucets

Generally speaking, home and car air-conditioning units are not at risk for spreading Legionella bacteria. These smaller systems do not use water to cool the air, so they are not a breeding ground for these harmful bacteria. The only vehicle related risk is in the windshield wiper fluid tank, though this is only the case when this tank is filled with water instead of genuine windshield cleaner fluid.

Legionnaires’ Disease: What It Is and What It Does

Legionnaires’ disease is the illness associated with exposure to the Legionella bacteria. Exposure to Legionella bacteria does not always result in illness. In fact, most healthy individuals who are exposed will not become sick at all.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of becoming infected and symptomatic.

Age can be a risk factor. People who are 50 years or older are at higher risk of falling ill of Legionnaires’ disease.

Smoking status can also be a risk factor. Both current and former smokers are at increased risk of falling ill of Legionnaires’ disease.

Those with an existing lung issue such as chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema are at higher risk of becoming ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

People with weakened immune systems are also at increased risk of infection and serious illness. Certain pre-existing conditions or medications can contribute to the weakened immune system.

Those with cancer are also of elevated risk.

Other underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure can also increase risk.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is often confused with other types of pnuemonial illnesses, leading to under or misdiagnosis. With appropriate antibiotic treatment, there is a higher probability of recovery.

Legionnaires’ disease symptoms

Legionnaires’ disease is a very serious illness. In fact, 1 in 10 illnesses result in death. This statistic rises to 1 in 4 when the infection is acquired in a healthcare setting.

Symptoms often begin somewhere between 2 and 14 day after exposure, but can take longer in some cases.

Primary symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, and confusion.

If you develop pneumonia symptoms, seek medical attention right away! Be sure to mention if you may have potential exposure to Legionella bacteria, have spent any nights away from home, used a hot tub, or stayed in a hospital in the last two weeks.

Pontiac fever symptoms

Pontiac fever (different from Legionnaires’ disease) is a milder infection associated with the Legionella bacteria. These symptoms generally include fever and muscle aches. Symptom onset happens sooner – anywhere from a few hours to a few days and resolves in less than a week. The key distinction is the lack of pneumonia.

State Health Department Recommendations

Without an identified source, MDH has generic recommendations for those who live or have stayed in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

“People who have symptoms or are concerned about their health should contact their health care provider,” said Jessica Hancock-Allen, director of the MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control Division.

Additionally, MDH urges health care providers to be on the lookout for additional patients with symptoms that are in line with Legionnaires’ disease, however testing is not recommended for those who may have been exposed but are not currently symptomatic.

What If I Have Legionnaires’ Disease

If you have contracted this serious illness, it can be scary. The significant mortality rate and prolonged illness can be devastating to your well-being and financial security.

Legionnaires’ disease can be prevented by routine maintenance and risk assessments. If you have fallen ill due to negligence, this is not okay!

A Legionnaires’ disease lawyer can help you through the process in the aftermath of your recovery. The experienced Legionnaires’ disease lawyers at The Lange Law Firm offer a free consultation to get you the answers you need to find out where you go from here. Email at this link or reach out by phone at (833)330-3663 for your free consultation.