A fresh outbreak of legionnaires’ disease is affecting people in Illinois, a disease which is becoming increasingly common for Americans. Each year, about 6,100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported nationwide. In Illinois, about 300 people contract Legionnaires’ disease annually. Residents in McHenry and Lake Counties and at the Warren Barr South Loop Nursing Home located in Chicago have been dealing with an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease. The disease has so far sickened two people with the potential for the outbreak to spread quickly and unknowingly affect more people in the area. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) illustrates how “outbreaks are most commonly associated with buildings or structures that have complex water systems, like hotels, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and cruise ships”. Authorities are working together with stakeholders to bring this perilous situation under control and keep communities safe from further infections. The case is still breaking with new information becoming known at a rapid pace. Here’s what you need to know about the Warren Barr Legionnaires Outbreak.
First, it is important to clarify what is known by the authorities in Illinois, specifically the state health department. After vigorous investigating, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), working closely with local health departments, has identified two separate clusters of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the area. Worryingly, there are three cases in Lake and McHenry counties tied to a Walmart in Johnsburg, Illinois. It has been confirmed that 12 people are sick in McHenry County. Further, Warren Barr South Loop Nursing Home has also been affected. Nirav D. Shah states that “the two recently identified clusters of Legionnaires’ disease are not connected and that Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is continuing to investigate possible sources, identify other individuals who may have been exposed, and recommend remediation and prevention measures.” Officials investigating the case have stated that the two clusters are not connected. Authorities are still tirelessly trying to pinpoint the sources and identify who may have been exposed. To highlight the potential for fatalities, it is important to note that Warren Barr has a history of legionnaires’ disease. A patient at the Warren Barr Gold Coast facility, also in Chicago, recently died of Legionnaires’ disease in 2015.
Incredibly for residents at Warren Barr, news of the outbreak has been slow. Given the urgency of the situation and the need to seek medical attention quickly, authorities have been ineffective in messaging the potential dangers to residents. CBS spoke to patients outside Warren Barr with a resounding theme occurring that the company failed to communicate that residents on site had contracted legionnaires’ disease. For example, patient Shawn Estoque stated to CBS news that “this is the first I’m hearing is from you guys, I just know we can’t use the water. I didn’t know it was that serious.” Additionally, patient Corriett Seltzer explains that “it’s extremely scary if there’s something going around, I think we should’ve been notified of it and I wasn’t told this is the first I’ve heard of it since you just mentioned it.” Warren Barr finally issued a response to residents which explained how ”a resident from our facility, who was also treated at another healthcare institution, has tested positive”.
Given the magnitude of the outbreak facing Illinois, it is crucial for authorities to identify sources and people affected. Legionnaires’ disease is a major concern at Warren Barr for authorities given that the facility focuses on respiratory care, a key cause for spreading dangerous bacteria. Authorities are still trying to pinpoint the sources in this case and are yet to identify who may have been exposed. Victoria Carrera, the daughter of a former patient, explains that she hopes the staff works to get the word out, “I mean you don’t want to cause panic, but you want to make sure that you get the condition under control”. Keen to display initiative, Warren Barr has taken action with new measures imposed including the revision of the sites water management plan, heightened clinical surveillance and increased environmental sampling. A key and necessary step in the right direction has been notifying current residents, the residents’ identified contacts and staff to allow for effective and efficient care. There has been discrepancy between Warren Barr and the authorities with the test results from the site. Warren Barr’s regional director has clarified that tests for Legionnaires at the South Loop facility have come back negative. Warren Barr believes that one of the residents could have contracted the disease elsewhere given that there are several affected areas in the region. A spokesperson for Warren Barr has stated that the nursing home notified direct relatives of those who tested positive and will place pamphlets about Legionnaires’ disease throughout the facility.
Furthermore, a suspected case of legionnaires’ has been tracked to a Walmart in Johnsburg. Measures that have been implemented to try to avert further damage include turning off the produce water sprayers in the store. Health officials in Illinois have pledged to continue investigating any other potential sources and identify other cases of legionnaires’ disease. The laws surrounding legionnaires’ disease do not protect citizens in delivering a notification to potentially affected people. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “there are no state or federal rules or regulations requiring long-term care facilities to notify residents, staff, or family about cases of legionnaires’ disease (with the exception of state-run veterans’ homes).”
People at a heightened risk of legionnaires’ disease are those over the age of 50, have a weakened immune system and underlying health conditions. Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection people get by breathing in bacteria-filled droplets of water. Given this, nursing homes are particularly vulnerable. Legionella, the bacteria that causes legionnaires’ disease, grows best in warm water with the disease contracted by inhaling the mist of water contaminated by the disease. Most outbreaks occur through manmade settings that have complex water systems such as hospitals, hotels, cruise ships and nursing homes.
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: Billy Rayfield, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)