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Chicago is currently experiencing a massive spike in Legionnaires’ disease cases. Since July 1, 2021, there have been 49 reported cases of the disease, with 15 people admitted to the hospital and two dead. In 2019, there were only 13 reported cases, and last year only 16, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria live in freshwater. Symptoms of the disease are shortness of breath, cough, chills, fever, headaches, and muscle aches. People can be exposed to the disease by inhaling water droplets contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can contract Legionnaires’ disease by aspirating drinking water contaminated with Legionella bacteria. This occurs when water accidentally gets into the lungs while drinking. Although there is a lower incidence of these types of cases, people with swallowing difficulties are at an increased risk.
“This is a reminder to keep your water systems flushed and clean. Those with risk factors should seek care early if they develop symptoms, and clinicians should do appropriate testing and treat empirically,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
Many healthy people exposed to the Legionella bacteria do not get ill. Those most at risk of contracting the disease after exposure are people with compromised immune systems, current and former smokers, people 50 and older, and those with illnesses such as lung disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure.
Legionella bacteria thrive in freshwater water systems in buildings that have been shut down for a period of time. Stagnant water increases the risk of the growth and spread of the bacteria.
People experiencing unusual respiratory symptoms and fall into one of the high-risk categories should immediately seek a medical professional’s attention. CDPH is currently investigating the outbreak.
Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
NBC 5 Chicago: Nearly 50 Cases of Legionnaires’ Disease Reported in Chicago This July, Resulting in 2 Dead: Officials; by Becca Wood
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