Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease up to five reported cases at Vernon Hills senior living center

Brookdale Senior Living in Vernon Hills has shut off water features, closed its pool and spa, and added point-of-use filters as the company works to contain an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the facility.

The total reported cases at the Vernon Hills senior center has increased from three to five since Feb. 5, when Lake County public health officials first announced that one person at the facility died following an outbreak of the disease, a type of severe pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria.


In a statement to Pioneer Press late last week from its corporate office, Brookdale Senior Living said the business is following protocols and recommendations from county and state officials on containing the outbreak.

The measures have included shutting off all water features at the Vernon Hills facility, including the pond, along with cleaning shower heads and adding the water filters to try and minimize the chance of residents there being exposed to Legionella bacteria, the company said.


Brookdale Senior Living also is working with officials at the the Lake County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health as they investigate the possible sources of the outbreak.

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“The health of our residents and associates is our greatest concern, and we are taking appropriate steps regarding the situation,” Brookdale said in a statement.

Mike Adam, deputy director of environmental health for the Lake County Health Department, said county officials started investigating shortly after the outbreak was first reported to the department Feb. 3.

Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease up to five reported cases at Vernon Hills senior living center

Investigators are working to determine possible causes and looking for any possible similarities in cases that have involved recently hospitalized patients who either are exhibiting signs of pneumonia or Legionnaires’ disease.

“Did everybody go to the swimming pool at the same time or eat in the same area?” Adam said of the similarities investigators are looking for.

Investigators with both the county and state health department also have taken water samples from various areas in the Brookdale facility and conducted swab tests, such as in the pools and bathroom sinks, Adam said. He said they’re also looking in pipes and other parts of the water distribution system at the facility.

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Adam said the Legionella bacteria can form in any place where there has been stagnant, warm water.

But people commonly become sick from it when they breathe in water droplets containing the bacteria, as it enters into the person’s lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The way people get exposed to (Legionella) is it’s in the water,” Adam said. “But it’s aerosolized, so it somehow gets up in the air and people breathe it in.”

The other issue for the Vernon Hills case is how dangerous this kind of outbreak can be for those who are older or who have compromised immune systems, he said.

While the disease isn’t uncommon, it can be dangerous and potentially fatal for those demographics, he said. But on the other hand, residents at the Vernon Hills senior center rarely leave the facility, so it can help officials identify the source easier, Adam said.

Adam said county officials currently are awaiting various test results that can help them better determine the exact source.


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