IDPH Investigating Legionella Possibly Associated with Chicago Hospital

Mercy Hospital & Health Center water tests positive for Legionella; Hospital also reports two cases of Legionnaires’ disease in patients, source under investigation

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease in patients possibly exposed at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago, and a report of Legionella in the facility’s water system.  The investigation is currently limited to this facility; the general public is not at risk.

IDPH, along with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), were onsite Thursday to evaluate the reported presence of Legionella in the hospital’s water system and collect environmental samples for laboratory testing. Both agencies continue to collect information and investigate. IDPH has provided the facility with information to give to patients and families about Legionella. Additionally, the facility is conducting active surveillance to identify other potential cases and to ensure appropriate testing and clinical management. 

Mercy Hospital & Medical Center is working with a water management team, IDPH and CDPH to strengthen its water management practices. The facility has already put protective measures in place like flushing the water system, altering or replacing water fixtures, and placing filters on sinks.  
 
Legionella bacteria occurs naturally in the environment.  Water containing Legionella bacteria can be aerosolized through cooling towers, showers, hot tubs, and decorative fountains, and can cause illness when inhaled.

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection (pneumonia) that people can get by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is not passed from person to person.  Outbreaks are most commonly associated with buildings or structures that have complex water systems like hotels, hospitals, long-term care facilities and cruise ships.  The bacterium can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems, like hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems and decorative fountains.  
 
Most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to Legionella bacteria.  People at increased risk are those 50 years of age and older, or those who have certain risk factors, such as being a current or former smoker, having a chronic disease, or having a weakened immune system. 
 
More information about Legionnaires’ disease can be found on the IDPH website and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.