Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, including one death, reported at senior living center

One person has died following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a Vernon Hills senior living center, according to the Lake County Health Department.

The health department has confirmed three cases of the disease, a type of severe pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, at Brookdale Senior Living on Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills, according to a news release.

The senior living center is actively notifying residents, the residents’ identified contacts and staff about the outbreak. Health department officials noted that the cases were reported at Brookdale’s Milwaukee Avenue facility, not at the company’s other Vernon Hills location on Hawthorn Parkway.

Since the reports were received late Monday, the Lake County Health Department has been working with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Brookdale staff to identify potential sources of contamination and those that could have been exposed to the bacteria, department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in the release.

Legionella bacteria grows in areas of warm water, including creeks and ponds, water taps, hot water tanks, cooling towers, evaporative condensers, whirlpool spas and decorative fountains, according to the release. In order to be infected with the bacteria, a person must breathe in a mist or vapor that contains the bacteria

There is no evidence that the Legionella bacteria can be spread from person to person.

Most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to the bacteria, but those 50 years or older, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung diseases, people with cancer or people with underlying illnesses like diabetes, kidney failure or liver failure are at an increased risk of getting sick.

Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics, and while most people who get sick need care in a hospital, most make a full recovery, according to the release. However, about one in 10 people who get Legionnaires’ disease die from the infection.

“We urge any residents and visitors of the Brookdale facility who are currently experiencing pneumonia symptoms — cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches and fever — to see a doctor right away for testing,” Dr. Sana Ahmed, the health department’s medical epidemiologist, said in the release. “Early treatment of Legionnaires’ disease reduces the severity of the illness and improves your chances for recovery.”

Just over 600 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported to the state last year, according to provisional data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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