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Legionnaires' case turns up at Chester Mental Health Center

  • A patient at the Chester Mental Health Center is the latest in state-owned facilities to be diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.

    A patient at the Chester Mental Health Center is the latest in state-owned facilities to be diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Trib FILE PHOTO

By Richard klicki
updated: 2/16/2018 4:01 PM

A patient at the Chester Mental Health Center has been diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, the latest case to be reported in state-owned facilities.

The patient, who is unidentified, was diagnosed with the illness on Feb. 13 and is in stable condition, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees the facility. The staff at Chester has taken extra precautions to prevent the spread of the disease -- including providing bottled water for staff and other residents -- and is monitoring for additional cases.

IDHS has also turned off the water to the unit where the patient lives. IDHS spokesman Meghan Powers said about 44 other patients assigned to the unit will be using showers and toilets in other areas of the facility as the investigation into the source continues.

IDHS is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to determine the potential source of the bacteria causing Legionnaires' Disease. Powers said IDPH environmental engineers are collecting water samples to determine the source of the bacteria.

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a bacterium known as legionella, according to the Mayo Clinic. The bacteria is typically spread through water and infection occurs from inhaling it through water droplets or vapor. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to the disease, according to the Mayo.

The disease got its name in 1976, when the bacteria infected attendees at an American Legion conference in Philadelphia. More than 200 people were sickened and 29 died.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf of Murphysboro said he was notified by IDHS on Feb. 14 and added his office is monitoring the situation closely.

"IDHS has been transparent and proactive, they're acting swiftly to reach out to residents' families and keep everyone abreast of any new developments," Schimpf said.

This is the first confirmed case of Legionnaires' disease at the Chester facility, Powers said.

In Illinois, Legionnaires' disease has been a serious problem at a veterans home in Quincy operated by the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. Three cases of the disease have been reported there since last October, with one of the patients dying. In 2015, an outbreak at the facility sickened 53 people, 12 of whom died.

The Quincy cases have become a political hot potato for Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration, as critics claim the governor and the staff have not done enough to prevent the disease from spreading at the facility.

A resolution sponsored by state Rep. Jay Hoffman of Swansea was advanced last week by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. It will go to the full House for approval.

The resolution would give Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah, Department of Veterans Affairs Director Erica Jeffries and Rauner's office two weeks to a provide a comprehensive timeline of the events.