Residents, family laud Illinois Vets Home staff as Legionnaires's disease cases climb

Posted: Aug. 29, 2015 9:04 pm Updated: Sep. 12, 2015 10:59 pm

Staff Writer | 217-221-3391 | @MHopfWHIG

QUINCY -- Antreaus Rezba received a call Wednesday from officials at the Illinois Veterans Home to let her know that some residents were diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.

Rezba, who lives in Pennsylvania, had made plans earlier to travel to Quincy to see her father, Godfrey Rezba, and is not concerned about his care. She lauded the staff for their work in caring for her father as she and other members of the family visited with him Saturday outside Elmore Infirmary.

"They have tons of extra work because they're monitoring everybody," she said. "They have their regular duties of taking care of everybody plus the extra stuff. I think their handling the level of stress really well."

Officials with the Veterans Home say 28 residents have tested positive for Legionnaires' disease, including the two residents who died Friday. That's an increase of five from what they reported Friday.

"Staff members at the home are monitoring residents carefully for symptoms that might indicate Legionnaires' disease and are making sure residents receive prompt medical attention if needed," spokesman Ryan Yantis said.

Yantis said all residents presenting any symptoms of Legionnaires' disease will be treated as if they have it until lab results confirm they are negative for the bacteria.

The disease is a severe form of pneumonia that can be fatal in 5 to 30 percent of the people who contract it. People 50 and older are more susceptible to it, especially who smoke, have a suppressed immune system, or suffer from chronic lung disease.

Most cases of the disease are traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as hot water tanks, cooling towers and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning units. The bacteria can be contracted only by inhaling contaminated water vapor.

Resident Tom Meleski said there have been only minor inconveniences for him since the cases were discovered.

"When you're a Vietnam veteran and you're used to living off the field, you get used to it," Meleski said. "They're taking every precaution for our safety and our well-being. It just requires a little more patience than you regularly have."

Staff and residents are using bottled and container water for all water sources, and all decorative and drinking fountains have also been deactivated.

"We have plenty of wipes for bathing and for hygiene, and bottled water," Meleski said. "The nurses and the staff have been right on top of things here."

Environmental health and infectious disease staff continue to investigate possible sources of the Legionella bacteria.

Yantis said the Veterans Home has established a remediation plan, including:

º Cleaning hot water tanks

º Cleaning the cooling tower, which was finished Friday.

º Using bottled water for residents and staff.

º Prepping a temporary chiller so the facility chiller could be certified by outside experts?.

º Certifying the facility chiller by outside experts.

º Keeping fountains and other potential sources of aerosolized water turned off.

º Removing possible and suspected Legionella-infected systems and devices from use until they can be specially treated and tested before use.

º Working with the Illinois Department of Public Health and other experts to clean and certify systems.


º Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever, collectively known as legionellosis.

º The bacterium was named after an outbreak in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered came down with the disease.

º An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease each year in the United States.

º Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in warm water.

º Legionella bacteria are not transmitted from person to person.

º People get Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever when they breathe in a mist or vapor that has been contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

º Keeping Legionella bacteria out of water is the key to preventing infection.

º Most people with Legionnaires' disease will have pneumonia (lung infection) since the Legionella bacteria grow and thrive in the lungs.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention