QUINCY -- Two new cases of Legionnaires' disease were confirmed Monday at the Illinois Veterans Home.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that both patients who have symptoms are residents of the home. Health officials believe they caught the illness early and that the patients are doing well.
"Because of the heightened awareness of Legionella bacteria, the staff is very cognizant of the situation" and is looking for any symptoms, said IDPH spokeswoman Melanie Arnold.
More than 60 residents and staff at the home have been sickened and 13 have died since the first and most serious outbreak occurred in 2015. Two hearings on the home's efforts to safeguard residents have been held by Illinois legislators this year after 10 families filed lawsuits against the state of Illinois.
After a lab confirmed the new cases, the home's engineering staff immediately removed faucets and mixing valves from the rooms of those who have been exposed to Legionella bacteria. Water samples have been collected in those rooms to check for the bacteria.
"Staff also increased water temperatures and flushed fixtures to provide an enhanced level of protection for residents," Arnold said in a release.
After an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease led to 12 deaths and sickened 53 people in 2015, the Quincy facility got a $6.4 million water treatment system to eliminate Legionella and other bacteria. Water coming to the Veterans Home campus from the Quincy water mains is treated with additional chemicals. The water also is heated to kill bacteria before it is cooled in mixing valves at individual facets to avoid scalding. Filters on shower heads have been installed.
All of those water safety efforts were launched at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently called for the installation of filters on individual faucets as well.
In addition, residents of the home are visited by staff members daily to check for fever or other signs of illness. Anybody with symptoms of Legionnaires' disease is then tested and results are obtained within hours from a local facility.
"We're doing everything we can. We're being very diligent with the outbreak," Arnold said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner spent a week at the home last month. He established a task force to consider completely new water systems and the construction of new buildings to eliminate the Legionella problem.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who has led hearings on the outbreaks has blamed Rauner for the problem.
"While the governor continues to live in a fantasy world, creating bureaucratic task forces and dodging requests for information, two more of our nation's heroes have tested positive for Legionnaires' disease," Cullerton said Tuesday. "Gov. Bruce Rauner has failed our veterans once again. Our nation's heroes need a solution now. They cannot afford to wait another three years for the governor to finally do his job."
Adams County Public Health Administrator Jerrod Welch gave testimony about the response to Legionella bacteria outbreaks during a public hearing in front of lawmakers last week in Springfield. Welch said that before 2015, the community averaged one case of Legionella annually. Additional cases were detected in 2015 in addition to those at the Veterans Home as the Health Department asked local health providers to look out for Legionnaires' disease after the second case was diagnosed at the Veterans Home.
"Within that context, we detected additional community-level cases that we were not able to attribute back to the Illinois Veterans Home," Welch said. "In retrospect, after months of investigation, some of those cases were attributed to other outbreaks in other communities. We had what we would say is four cases in the community that we did not have attributable to any specific cause during that time frame."
Arnold said Legionella bacteria is ubiquitous. It can cause pneumonia, but the illness can be treated more effectively with medications that might not otherwise be prescribed for pneumonia.
"The state has about 300 cases of Legionella throughout the year, but Legionella is probably underreported," Arnold said.