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Illinois governor addresses Legionnaires' disease situation at vets' home

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner arrives at the Illinois Veterans' Home for a tour of the recently-completed water facility. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner arrives at the Illinois Veterans' Home for a tour of the recently-completed water facility.
QUINCY, Ill. (WGEM) -

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner stopped by the Illinois Veterans’ Home Wednesday morning, a day after the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced two veterans had been diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease.

The governor was there for a tour of the recently-completed water facility. The state completed the extensive $5 million renovation of the water system this year after 12 people died and 54 were sickened last summer as a result of the disease. Dozens of others were sickened. But health officials never found a source for the outbreak.

"We cannot let it happen again," Rauner said.

The governor addressed the two recent Legionnaire's cases in a press conference when he arrived for his tour. He says he was told about the cases Monday. The two people who were diagnosed have already been treated at a hospital and are back at the veterans' home. State health officials said the two people who contracted the disease were in separate buildings.

"Our primary goal is to ensure our residents are safe,"  Director of Veterans Affairs Erica Jeffries said. "These are America's heroes."

Rauner says the water is being boiled 150 degrees above what it has been, and he says the water is being treated with the strongest chemicals safely possible to try to kill any bacteria. He says the bacteria, which thrives in warm water, shows up naturally in the water source. He says when the water, which is treated by the City of Quincy, leaves the city's treatment facility and arrives at the veterans' home, it's had time to get warmed up along the way, making it tough to treat.

"Monitoring and testing," Rauner said. "We test every possible way that water comes in contact with the residents. We're testing this at a scale that's never been done before."

Rauner says the state is working with Blessing Hospital to ensure any resident showing signs or symptoms of pneumonia gets immediate medical care and has their temperature checked every two hours. The state sent an alert to doctors throughout the region to let them know about the cases so that anyone with signs or symptoms of pneumonia can be checked for Legionnaire's disease. He says the home is monitoring, testing and taking swabs. 

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah, M.D., J.D. reiterated the precautions.

"The facility is doing temperature checks," Shah said. "So anyone with a symptom can be rushed to the hospital."

A few people at the home are showing symptoms of being sick or having pneumonia, but he says that is normal with any elderly population. Rauner also says an engineering team is at the home to help find the best way to manage the water and to try to find the source. 

"The sad fact is legionella bacteria is in the water systems of Illinois," Rauner said. "It fluctuates with the changes of heat."

He says the state is taking steps to do more if needed, including possibly using bottled water, but the home hadn't moved to bottled water yet.

"We feel confident our water is safe," Jeffries said. "Here to get to the bottom of the issue."

"We're really on top of the situation," Rauner said. 

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