CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Department of Public Health is investigating four cases of Legionnaires’ disease linked to Advocate Christ Medical Center since 2018, including two people who were patients in the past two months.
State health officials are sending investigators to conduct on-site tests of the hospital’s water after confirming the reports of legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease and can grow in building water supplies.
Three patients and one staff member at the hospital have tested positive for the disease since last year, including two who were patients in the past two months, according to IDPH.
“The hospital is working with IDPH to strengthen its water management plan and implement multiple control measures,” the agency stated in a news release. “IDPH has recommended the facility provide information to potentially impacted patients and families about Legionella. Additionally, IDPH recommended that the facility conduct surveillance to identify other potential cases and to ensure appropriate testing and clinical management.”
Legionnaires’ Disease is a form of pneumonia that can lead to death. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle pains, and headaches.
The length of time between exposure to Legionella bacteria and the appearance of symptoms typically is 2-10 days.
Sources tell CBS 2 that some employees have been told by their supervisors not to drink the water in the hospital.
The disease is not transmitted person to person, but primarily by consuming contaminated water. It can be spread through water vapor from cooling towers, showers, hot tubs, and decorative fountains, according to IDPH.
“Our top priority is to provide the safest and highest quality care for the patients and communities we serve, and we are working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health on its review,” the hospital said in a statement. “Our facility is safe for our patients, visitors and team members.”
Officials are working to determine whether the outbreak occurred inside the hospital or somewhere else.
“It’s kind of scary to hear that’s happened to my hospital,” said patient Juanita Henry. “Apprehensive, a little afraid, but we’ll see how I feel in the next two months when I have to come back here. Maybe it’ll be cleared by then.”
Catalina Coronado has been in and out of Advocate Christ Medical Center with her mom for weeks. Coronado is upset that she didn’t know that state health inspectors were recently on-site testing the hospital’s water system.
“There is nothing at all alerting or alarming anyone coming in or out, them saying ‘Hey, if you have theses symptoms come in and get it checked out,’ ” she said.
Attorney Louis Cairo has handled Legionnaire’s Disease cases in the past. He explained that hospitals are particularly vulnerable with large water systems and patients with compromised immune systems.
“You have huge systems of water that sometimes stay stagnant for long period of time,” he said. “They would have an even higher responsibility to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to safely maintain their water systems, flushing it out on regular basis.”
IDPH has recommended that Advocate Christ provide information to potentially impacted patients and families about the bacteria.
The state’s also asking the hospital to “conduct surveillance” to identify other potential cases. IDPH says the investigation is limited to this hospital and stressed that most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to the bacteria.
This is the third time in two months that state health officials have investigated possible cases of Legionnaires’ Disease at Chicago area hospitals.
They visited Mercy Hospital in April and the University of Chicago Medical Center in May.