Tuesday, March 28

Logan County Health Department investigation into deadly bacteria outbreak winds down          Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 28, 2006]  Staff at the Logan County Health Department jumped into action when they received word in the second week of March of a Legionnaire's disease outbreak that was traced back to a Lincoln motel pool.

There were two confirmed cases of the disease that led to its discovery, and so far that is all. Both were out-of-state residents. One case was a 90-year-old woman from Indiana who was recovering from pneumonia in the hospital but unexpectedly died on March 19. The other person was treated and recovered.

The Logan County Health Department staff worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health. In phase one they contacted all guests of the motel, about 800 people from all across the U.S. who had stayed at the motel between Jan. 1 and March 7.

By March 16 they had reached nearly everyone and moved on to the secondary list of people who were friends or family of the people who had shown any possible symptoms and had gone to pool parties together and may have spread the disease after they went home, said Margie Harris, assistant administrator and director of nursing at the Logan County Health Department.

The motel has been very helpful, Harris said. It was a busy time, but everyone was cooperative and it all went smoothly, she said.

The disease is acquired by breathing mist or swallowing bacteria-contaminated water. It is important to know that it is not contagious and is not passed from person to person, Harris said.

The disease first shows symptoms two to 10 days after exposure. The symptoms are like flu, only with a little higher fever, and can lead to pneumonia. Some people never get sick. Some get a mild case that clears up on its own. A few develop a severe case that could lead to death.

People who were called and reported symptoms were advised to see their doctor and get tested, which is a simple urine test. Some had already been to the doctor because of experiencing symptoms and had been treated with antibiotics that would work.

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Healthy people usually get over it on their own, but there are some who don't and it requires use of specific antibiotics for successful treatment.

Additional calls were made to health departments in states where the contact list guests lived, and county health departments throughout Illinois were notified. The Logan County Health Department also notified all doctors' offices and area health facilities to watch for patients complaining of symptoms and notified labs to be prepared for testing.

Logan County Health Department administrator Mark Hilliard said their investigation is slowing. We continue to talk to people who are just learning about it, that maybe just got back from vacation and found the message on their phone recorder, he said. It's been at least one a day, up to yesterday. There hadn't been any calls yet by midafternoon.

Their investigation yielded the following:

  • 160 reported being ill within two weeks after their stay at the motel.

  • 49 saw a physician.

  • They were from 19 states.

  • Five hospitalized.

  • Two lab-confirmed cases.

  • The ages ranged from 2 to 90.

  • The median age was 45.

The source of the waterborne bacteria was from the swimming pool. It was closed and sealed off. The pool was drained and the filters sterilized. The state of Illinois, the agency that does the pool inspections, will test before the pool is reopened.

[Jan Youngquist]

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