1 dead, 2 others sick from Legionnaires’ disease at Vernon Hills senior living center

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LAKE COUNTY, Ill. — The Lake County Health Department has confirmed three cases of Legionnaires' disease at Brookdale Senior Living in Vernon Hills.

Of the three cases, there is one confirmed death.

“They found him on the floor of his apartment totally unresponsive," Tamara Stewart, one of Bernard Stewart's daughters, said.

Stewart, 92, was rushed to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

Initially, doctors believed he was suffering from pneumonia.

“They didn’t know what it was until Sunday when he passed away," Sue Franz, another one of the victim's daughters, said.

Lab results confirmed that Stewart had somehow contracted the Legionella bacteria.

"Since receiving the reports of Legionnaires’ disease cases late Monday, the Lake County Health Department has been working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Brookdale staff to investigate potential sources of contamination and to identify individuals who may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria,” said Mark Pfister, Executive Director for the Health Department.

“And basically we are looking at water features within the facility that harbor legionella bacteria. When it gets into these water systems, it likes warm water and areas where water is stagnant so we look at the entire distribution system," added Michael Adam, Deputy Director for the Health Department.

Legionnaire's disease is a type of severe pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. It is treatable with antibiotics and most who contract it will require hospitalization but will make a full recovery.

However, approximately 1 out of every 10 people who contract the disease will 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,” said Dr. Sana Ahmed, Medical Epidemiologist at the Lake County Health Department. “Early treatment of Legionnaires’ disease reduces the severity of the illness and improves your chances for recovery.”

The bacteria grows in areas of warm water, including hot water taps, whirlpool spas, and decorative fountains, among others.

"We are working with the Lake County Health Department, the Illinois Department of Health and a national water treatment company and are following their protocols and recommendations regarding Legionella bacteria. At this time, no one knows the source of the bacteria,” said Heather Hunter, a spokesperson for Brookdale Senior Living.

There is no evidence to suggest that the bacteria can spread from person-to-person.

Most healthy people do not contract the disease after being exposed to Legionella. Those with an increased risk of getting sick include:

  • People ages 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

Click here for more information on Legionella.

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