Experts baffled by Vets’ Home Legionnaires’ disease - Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Experts baffled by Vets’ Home Legionnaires’ disease


The ongoing Legionnaires’ disease problem at Quincy’s Illinois Veterans’ Home has confused and frustrated some of the most experienced public health and water treatment experts in the nation. 

“It just makes you say ‘What’s going on?,'” Marty Detmer of Phigenics, LLC. said. 

Detmer’s company was hired to put in place and oversee a water treatment program at the facility. He meets weekly with a water management team made up of experts with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Adams County Health Department.

Jarred Welch, with the Adams County Health Department, said they now monitor the situation from a distance.

"Our primary role is to really monitor at the community level," Welch said. "We still continue to make sure that we are investigating cases, not particularly at the vets home, but in a broader sense. Are there community cases that are occurring? At this point I can tell you we've never found any sort of linkage."

As cases continued to pop up, Welch said they become more and more frustrated.

"You've got the local emotions that are going with what is a scientific investigation," Welch said. "It can't go fast enough. It can't be thorough enough. But our frustration has really been about not getting to a solution and getting this fixed."

Detmer said he had never seen anything like what’s going on at the home.

The Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs reported 12 people died in connection with a 2015 outbreak at the home. Since then, the IDVA reported four more cases at the home in 2016 and three additional cases this year.

IDVA reported one of the three residents infected this year died.

“Obviously, the clinical cases are of grave concern to everyone,” Detmer said.

Detmer’s company runs weekly tests on the level of Legionella bacteria in the water at the veterans’ home. Tests are run in various areas such as sinks, tubs and ice machines.

Health officials say the bacteria grows in warm water. They say to be infected, a person must inhale water vapor contaminated with the bacteria.

Detmer said the testing has been encouraging in recent months with most results showing little or no concern over the presence of the Legionella bacteria.

“We have seen marked improvements in sampling,” Detmer said.

In fact, Detmer said the recent Legionnaires’ disease cases this fall really baffled him because the summer test results were encouraging. He said the bacteria tends to grow better in warm weather, but the testing showed the levels were under control.

“I was feeling extremely good as we went through the summer. Then, the clinical cases continued,” Detmer said, as he shared his frustration.

Detmer said he has been involved at the veterans’ home since he was contacted following the 2015 outbreak. He said the old water pipes on the campus, and many other parts of the city, were an immediate concern. 

Detmer was worried that disinfectants put in the water at the city’s water treatment plant were becoming too diluted by the time they reached the veterans’ home.

City Engineer Jeffery Conte said he worked with Phigenics to increase the water pressure going to the home to flush out the piping.

"We also raised our disinfectant levels to accommodate their needs at that time, "Conte added. "Obviously with the Legionella bacteria, they were trying to flush all of their lines and get a stronger residual disinfectant to all parts of the campus."

Conte said the city increased the disinfectant levels for about 6 months and then returned to normal when the home installed a new $2.3 million water treatment facility.

Detmer said the water management team’s focus remains on trying to figure out what’s going on at the vets' home.

“We’re looking inside (the veterans’ home campus)," Detmer said.

Adding to the frustration, Detmer said the oversight and testing protocols now in place at the vets’ home far exceed industry standards.

“It is to be held up as a model,” he said when explaining the frequency of testing far exceeds what most hospitals do.

Still, people are getting sick. And, Detmer said nobody seems to know why.

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