Why COVID-19 Could Cause a Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak in Illinois
The number of Legionnaires’ disease cases in Illinois could spike in 2020 because of COVID-19.
Legionnaires’ disease is already on the rise in Illinois, reaching an all-time high of 612 cases and 43 deaths reported in 2019. Here’s why things could get worse: the closure of businesses during the pandemic has idled buildings everywhere, causing water to stagnate in pipes and other parts of a structure’s water systems. The stagnant water is a breeding ground for Legionella bacteria, which can increase the risk for Legionnaires’ disease to break out in any enclosed space such as an office building or hotel. People contract the disease when they breathe in small droplets of water containing bacteria that has grown in building water systems.
Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease (APLD) spokesperson Bob Bowcock told NPR, “If the building water system is not flushed out properly and properly disinfected and recommissioned, we could see a post-COVID-19 Legionella outbreak problem of major significance.”
Bowcock said water systems in buildings left vacant by the state’s shutdown orders may be hosting disease-carrying bacteria.
“Somewhere in that building is, you know, a 55 gallon hot water heater that’s been sitting pretty stagnant for 90 days,” Bowcock said. “It’s got some nasty stuff going on inside.”
According to Bowcock the APLD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have written guidance on how to properly disinfect water systems. But buildings need to act in order to protect their residents or else they could have another problem on their hands when people return to the workplace.
The heightened awareness around Legionnaires’ disease has raised questions among many about this deadly problem in Illinois. Read on for answers to those questions.
What exactly is Legionnaires’ disease?
As we blogged in 2018, Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory illness caused by exposure to Legionella bacteria. It is typically contracted from hotels, motels, apartment buildings, office buildings, warehouses, production facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and other medical facilities. People contract the disease when they breathe in small droplets of water containing bacteria that has grown in improperly designed or maintained building water systems. The disease gained notoriety at a 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia where the outbreak was first identified.
Is Legionnaires’ disease an elderly person’s disease?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the elderly are run a greater risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease — but so does anyone with a compromised immune system. Per the Cleveland Clinic website, “[y]ou have an increased risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease if you:
- Are older than 50
- Smoke cigarettes (or used to)
- Have a weakened immune system (or take medication that suppresses the immune system, such as chemotherapy)
- Have certain health conditions, such as:
Why do we hear about Legionnaires’ disease occurring at nursing homes and hotels?
As the Cleveland Clinic notes, the bacteria can grow when certain human-made water structures aren’t maintained with proper disinfectants. Tiny droplets of water rising from those water systems can make the Legionella bacteria go airborne. Breathing air that contains the bacteria can cause someone to get the disease.
The systems at a greater risk for spreading Legionella include hot tubs, showerheads, faucets, fountains, and air conditioning units for large buildings – all of which are present in care facilities and hotels. And, of course, nursing home residents are composed of an at-risk population.
Why is Legionnaires’ disease on the rise year after year in Illinois?
In fact, we’re seeing an increase in reports of Legionnaires’ disease across the country.According to USA Today, there are a number of reasons why. They include:
- Better awareness, improved testing, and an aging population more susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease.
- Poor oversight at the facilities where Legionnaires’ disease is more likely to happen. As the article reports, “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires hospitals and nursing homes to bolster oversight of building water systems and medical equipment that could expose patients to harmful bacteria. There’s little regulatory oversight at apartments, hotels and other nonmedical buildings.”
Is there a relationship between Legionnaires’ disease and COVID-19?
According to Plumbermag.com, COVID-19 is exacerbated by the presence of other respiratory pathogens in the body – and Legionella presenting is one of the main sources. The Lancet reported a study conducted in a hospital in Qingdao, China. Of the 68 patients displaying serious respiratory symptoms from COVID-19, Legionella pneumophila was detected in 20 percent (14 patients).
Is Legionnaires’ disease treatable?
It is possible to cure Legionnaires’ disease with antibiotics. But the disease must be detected early. Properly maintained facilities are the key to preventing outbreaks in the first place. Unfortunately, this terrible disease is often misunderstood. And victims may not even be aware that they have it. People needing legal assistance also discover that few attorneys possess the specialized knowledge of Legionnaires’ disease to help.
What should I do if a loved one has suffered from Legionnaires’ disease?
We advise you to consult with an attorney with experience representing victims of Legionnaire’s disease. At Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen, we’ve seen firsthand how devastating Legionnaires’ disease can be. We have collected millions of dollars on behalf of individuals and the families of individuals who have contracted Legionnaires’ disease. On our website, we answer questions you might be asking as the disease remains in the public eye. Please read our discussion on Legionnaires’ disease to understand this illness in more detail and become more aware.
Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen
Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen now at (855) 208-3904 if you need help with a Legionnaires’ disease personal injury case in Illinois or Iowa. As your Illinois and Iowa Injury Network, we are ready to assist you over the phone or in person. We perform our cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we are not paid unless you recover compensation for your claim. Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen at (855) 208-3904 – let us show how we can deliver results for you.