In July 2015, a resident of the Warren Barr rehab center in Chicago died from Legionnaires disease. One month later, dozens of residents of a veterans home in Quincy, Illinois contracted Legionnaires disease, causing seven deaths.
Legionella is a bacterium that causes a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires disease. Legionella thrives in lukewarm water, making the end of summer an ideal season for bacterial growth and spread. Legionnaires disease does not spread by human-to-human contact, but by inhaling air contaminated with legionella, such as from an air conditioner or water fountain.
More than 45 residents of the Quincy veterans home have been diagnosed with Legionnaries. That facility is home to about 400 residents in 20 buildings, run by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. The state VA requested aid from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in determining the cause of the outbreak.
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Legionella can grow in various types of water systems, and most outbreaks occur in large buildings because of their more complex water lines. The disease typically develops two to ten days after exposure to legionella, with symptoms like fever, muscle pain, and chills. Eventually, symptoms will include mental changes, chest pain, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal problems.
Legionnaires is a form of pneumonia so it primarily affects the lungs; however, it can also cause serious infections in wounds (like bedsores) or the heart. People at higher risk of infection are smokers, anyone over the age of 50, those with chronic lung diseases, or anyone with a weakened immune system. Legionnaires disease can be fatal or lead to life-threatening complications like septic shock, respiratory failure, and kidney failure.
All of the Quincy residents sickened by the infection are elderly with pre-existing medical conditions.
In 2011 to 2012, a Legionnaires outbreak in a VA hospital in Pittsburgh infected nearly two dozen people and killed five others. That outbreak led to congressional hearings, police evaluations, and internal investigations at the VA. As a result, the hospital revamped its water treatment systems and its infection control practices. More information on that outbreak can be found here, on our Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog.
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Legionella is almost always present in water systems – outbreaks occur when the systems are inadequately maintained. Owners and operators of buildings must properly install, maintain and repair water systems to prevent this type of outbreak. If one does occur, they may be liable for any illnesses or deaths.
Settlements and jury awards from Legionnaires disease outbreaks have totaled into the millions, to reimburse those sickened and compensate surviving loved ones. Victims can receive compensation for medical bills, disability, lost wages, pain and suffering, or wrongful death. Substantial settlements have been won by people infected with legionella from hotel pools, medical centers, and nursing homes.
Just a few years ago, in 2012, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Marriott after an Irish tourist visiting Chicago contracted Legionnaires disease from its hotel lobby. Investigators found legionella in a decorative fountain in the downtown hotel, which the man inhaled and ultimately died from. His wife filed suit against Marriott, claiming it failed to establish control measures to make sure the fountain and water system were safe.
Our team of wrongful death attorneys is currently investigating cases of serious illness and death from this type of negligence. If you have any questions or concerns about concerning wrongful death, Legionnaires disease, or any other type of personal injury law, contact our firm for a free consultation.