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Summit Commons Legionnaires Outbreak – What You Need to Know

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on September 22, 2018

The Summit Commons Legionnaires outbreak has the state capital of Rhode Island in a buzz. Why? Health authorities have 3 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in a local nursing home. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, these cases involve an assisted living facility called Summit Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

The Story

The Providence Journal is covering the story and shared the following:

The report states that health agents diagnosed the three cases at Summit Commons between mid-August and early September. This is according to Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the Department of Health. The bacteria that caused these illnesses is localized and the wider public is not at risk, he said.

Because of health privacy laws, Wendelken said he could not comment on the conditions of the three patients.

Older people, smokers and those with chronic lung disease or other immune system deficiencies are more susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease, he said.

The Investigation

Department of Health officials met with families on Thursday to answer questions at the rehab facility, he said.

Yearly Rhode Island typically has 50 cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

“Legionnaire’ Disease is of particular concern for people over 50, people who have underlying lung conditions, or weakened immune systems,” said Joe Wendelken with the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Many in the facility fit that bill.

The DOH told NBC 10’s Tony Gugliotta that they are taking steps to help protect residents and staff, like continuously testing the water.

The department will gave a briefing about the situation Thursday afternoon.

“Sometimes we see elevated levels in facilities like this; facilities that have more complex water systems,” said Wendelken.

People can contract it by breathing in small droplets of water like steam or mist that contain the bacteria.

Legionella pneumonia spreads through air-conditioning units and grows in damp settings. Even so, it does not spread from person to person.

Summit Commons says that they took action to try to eliminate any harmful bacteria in the water on September 12th after contacting the Department of Health.

“The water has been heavily-treated. It’s been chlorinated. There’s been point-of-use filters that have been put all throughout the facility so at showers, at faucets, on the ice machine. Anywhere that water is drawn that may be consumed,” said Wendelken.

Whereas, we know that from the Department of Health that the nursing home is sanitizing their water system.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia. The bacterium Legionella pneumophila cause this disease. In addition, the bacteria live in both potable and nonpotable water systems. Each year, Legionella bacteria infect an estimated 10,000 to 18,000 people in the United States.

Legionella covers a vast amount of information pertaining to Legionnaires’ disease and I found a lot of the information to be quite helpful, especially having a lot of elderly family who resides in various nursing homes and assisted living facilities.


The incubation period of Legionnaires’ disease is from two to ten days; this is the time it takes before symptoms of the illness appear after being exposed to the bacteria. For several days, the patient may feel tired and weak. Doctors admit most patients into to the hospital who have developed a high fever, often greater than 39.5°C (103°F). A cough can be the first sign of a lung infection. The cough may be sufficiently severe to cause sputum production (coughed up mucus). In addition, gastrointestinal stomach symptoms are common with diarrhea being the most distinctive symptom. Also, many patients have nausea, vomiting, and stomach discomfort. Nevertheless, other common symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

Water Sources

The major source is water distribution systems of large buildings, including hotels and hospitals. Health agencies have long thought that Cooling towers are a major source for Legionella. But new data suggests that this is an overemphasized mode of transmission. Other sources include mist machines, humidifiers, whirlpool spas, and hot springs. Importantly, home air conditioners are not a source for Legionnaires’ disease.

Is Legionnaires’ disease contagious?

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious. No special precautions are necessary. The disease transmits via drinking water, not by infected persons. So, it differs from SARS and influenza. Ill people must wear masks for these conditions. Likewise, women who are pregnant and their fetuses have nothing to fear from patients with Legionnaires’ disease.

How is it treated?

Many antibiotics are highly effective against Legionella bacteria. First, the two most potent classes of antibiotic are the macrolides (azithromycin). The second class includes the quinolones (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, gemifloxacin, trovofloxacin). In addition, science shows that Tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole are other agents that are effective.

So, doctors have replaced Erythromycin, the former antibiotic of choice, with more potent and less toxic antibiotics.

What is the prognosis?

If a doctor treats a patient with appropriate antibiotics near the onset of pneumonia, the patient’s outcome is usually excellent. Clearly, this is possible if the patient has no underlying illness that compromises his/her immune system. So, if a sick person delays appropriate therapy, their condition can result in prolonged hospitalization, complications, and death. Patients with compromised immune systems, including transplant recipients, are especially at risk.

The most common risk factor is heavy cigarette smoking. In addition, chronic lung disease is also common. Moreover, the most intense risk factor is organ transplantation; the medicines used to protect the new organ also compromise the patient’ defense system against infection. So, patients who take corticosteroid medicines are also at high risk.

Medical Attention Highly Recommended

If you or someone you know believe you have been infected by Legionnaires’ disease, they should seek medical care. At that point, the local Department of Health may ask a sick person questions about their illness. Health officials ask those who are sick to assist as much as possible to help determine their exposure.

Our thoughts are with those affected in the Summit Commons nursing home and we wish them a speedy recovery. Trying times such as this often bring communities closer together. Also, they bring awareness to issues that you may not have known about before hearing about them on the news. Hence, we should all do our best to spread the word.

Our Legionnaires’ Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)