sipa 13073897 CDC says Illinois Vet Home may never be free from Legionella bacteria

Kent Carson works with occupational therapist Sandy Kim at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Caron contracted Legionnaire’s disease and had three limbs amputated. (Photo by Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

13 dead, 64 sick, $6.4 million spent to fix the problem, but now the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincey may never be free from bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.

The 132-year-old veteran’s home has been given several recommendations by the CDC as a way to keep residents safe from the bacteria. “How much further our recommended changes will reduce risk is unclear,” said the CDC in a report about the home.  The report goes on to state that the Legionella bacteria will probably continue to live in the water and that none of the recommended safeguards will totally protect the home’s 400 residents.

The first Legionnaires outbreak at the home happened in 2015. Approximately 35 residents, six staff, and five community members came down with the illness, the next year another five cases were identified.  Another six cases were reported in 2017 and the 13th death, a Korean War veteran, was reported in October.

With his administration’s actions being criticized for years, state Gov. Bruce Rauner has decided to move into the home for a few days with his wife, Diana, as a way to see how the home operates. The governors’ spokesperson, Rachel Bold, said in a statement that the Rauner’s arrived at the home Wednesday night and that the “schedule will vary, but will focus on gaining a more thorough understanding of clinical, water-treatment and residential operations at the home.”

The governor’s office didn’t say much about the first couple’s living arrangement, including if they planned on drinking tap water our using an unfiltered sink or shower facilities. Last month, when asked about this the Governor said, “Absolutely!”

Considering the unsettling recommendations from the CDC for the home, this is a little doubtful.

The CDC has advised the state to add filters, designed specifically to catch Legionella, to sink faucets and shower heads. Another recommendation is to flush the faucets for at least 20 minutes.  The staff has been encouraged to wear protective masks and avoid letting the water splash in sinks and to make sure residents are in their rooms when the flushing happens.  “After turning on the water,” the report continues, “staff members may choose to step out of the room while flushing is ongoing.”

For the outbreak last year, the CDC said that there didn’t seem to be any common exposure to contaminated water. One resident told the CDC that he would occasionally perform flushing on the sink in his room.  Another resident who had been sick said that he watered the plants in the greenhouse on the property.

The full text of the CDC report can be found here.

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