What Is Legionnaires' Disease?

A cluster of cases have been detected in Burbank, Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Stickney Public Health District

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A Chicago suburb has found itself at the center of a cluster of Legionnaires' disease cases, as the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Stickney Public Health District said they were investigating reports in Burbank, Illinois.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Legionnaires’ disease is "a serious type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria."

"People can get sick when they breathe in small droplets of water or accidently swallow water containing legionella into the lungs," the CDC states. The disease is not spread from person-to-person, however.

IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said the disease typically begins within two weeks of exposure with a high fever, chills, muscle aches, a cough and shortness of breath. Diarrhea, nausea and confusion can also be found in patients, the CDC said.

According to health officials, most healthy people don't contract the illness following exposure to the bacteria, but those at a higher risk include anyone 50 years of age or older, or those with certain risk factors like smokers, people with a chronic disease or those with weakened immune systems.

So far, the cases were reported between June and August, health officials said Friday, with at least one case geographically linked to the St. Albert Great Church in Burbank. Three other cases were linked epidemiologically, the department said.

An investigation is underway surrounding the cases, and IDPH said inspectors who collected samples from the church detected the presence of legionella in the building's cooling tower. The church is cooperating and notifying parishioners, health officials said, and the cooling tower was shut down until legionella is no longer detected.

“As the epidemiological and environmental investigation of this Legionnaires’ disease cluster continues, it is important to release this information to ensure that anyone with risk factors who feels symptoms is aware and seeks evaluation and treatment,” Vohra said in a statement.

IDPH said it had also advised hospitals and providers in the area to monitor for additional cases and watch for patients who pose symptoms associated with the illness.

In 2021, Illinois reported 522 cases of Legionnaires' disease. So far this year, IDPH has recorded 227 cases.

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