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Two cases of Legionnaires’ disease since November have prompted officials at Alomere Health hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota, to work with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to try and identify possible sources of Legionellabacteria.
The first patient was sickened at Alomere Health, located at 111 17th Avenue East, in late November; that patient recovered. The most recent patient infected with the sometimes-deadly respiratory illness developed Legionnaires’ disease symptoms in late January and remains hospitalized.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor containing Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella occur in the United States yearly. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
According to the MDH, Minnesota had more than 150 cases reported around the state in 2018.
Alomere Health has contracted an independent environmental consultant to “conduct a complete assessment and testing of the facility’s water system and address potential sources for the bacteria,” according to an MDH news release.
Additionally, the hospital has implemented the following recommendations from the MDH in an attempt to minimize the risk of exposure to patients and employees:
- Restricted the use of showers; patients can use bathtubs without using water jets.
- Restricted the use of hand sprayers.
- Bottled water must be used by patients on medical/surgical and ICU units for drinking, brushing teeth, and other oral care.
The MDH stated that the “recommendations only apply to patients and employees at Alomere Health. Alexandria’s municipal water supply meets water-quality standards.”
Hospital staff also has begun notifying patients and families about the outbreak, as well as informing them of the steps being taken by the hospital.
The MDH is contacting area health-care providers to be on alert for additional patients with possible Legionnaires symptoms.
Watch for symptoms
If you are a patient, employee or visitor to Alomere Health and you are experiencing pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should seek care from your health-care provider out of an abundance of caution. Those symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- muscle aches
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Legionnaires’ disease – which is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is not contagious. If it is diagnosed early enough, the condition is treatable with antibiotics; if not diagnosed early enough, the infection can lead to severe complications, and it even can become deadly.
Although Legionnaires primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.
If you have any questions, concerns or are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact Alomere Health at 320-762-6019 and ask for Bonnie Freudenberg, the hospital’s director of quality, or Margaret Kalina, VP of patient-care services. In addition, you can call the MDH at 651-201-5414.
More on Legionnaires’ disease
A 2015 study by the CDC stated that “75 percent of (Legionnaires’ disease) acquired in health-care settings could be prevented with better water management.”
Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease.
Other people more susceptible to infection include:
- recipients of organ transplants
- individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
- heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages.
This list also includes anyone with an immune system weakened by:
- frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis, or skin infections
- organ inflammation and infection
- blood disorders, such as low platelet counts or anemia
- digestive problems, such as cramping, appetite loss, diarrhea, and nausea
- delayed growth and development.
After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can occur; they include:
- respiratory failure: caused by changes to the lung tissue, or oxygen loss in arteries supplying the lungs.
- septic shock: This can occur when Legionella produce toxins that enter the bloodstream and cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to the loss of adequate blood supply to the organs.
- kidney failure: those same Legionella toxins can damage the kidneys’ ability to eliminate waste from the blood, resulting in kidney failure.
- endocarditis: an infection of the inner lining of the heart that can affect the strength of the organ to maintain adequate blood flow through the body.
- pericarditis: swelling of the pericardium, which is the primary membrane around the heart. This can also affect the ability of the heart to circulate blood throughout the body.