Legionnaires’ takes a toll at two senior care sites

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in a northern Alabama nursing home has left one person dead and a dozen others ill. Another 10 cases are suspected but await lab confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Those infected included 10 residents of the Glenwood Healthcare nursing home in Florence, Ala., and three visitors, including the elderly woman who died.

In August, a contaminated air conditioning system was blamed for the Legionnaires’ outbreak at Wesley Ridge Retirement Community in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where five people died and 39 others became ill. It was the largest outbreak of the disease in the state’s history.

Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, is caused by the legionella bacterium and contracted through inhalation. Because the germ is waterborne, most people encounter the bacteria through water vapor in bathing areas and through air-conditioning or steam heating systems. Risk factors for contracting the disease are being age 65+, being a smoker, having a pulmonary disease and/or having a weakened immune system, according to the CDC. The illness cannot be spread through human contact.

Legionnaires’ outbreaks can be difficult to ascertain until multiple people are sickened, since the symptoms of the disease are similar to other forms of pulmonary infections and because the diagnosis must be confirmed by x-ray and a lab culture test. The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Thoracic Society have agreed on a set of care management protocols for community-based outbreaks of pneumonia, including severity-of-illness scores for determining hospital admission and in-home care.

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