New Legionnaires case reported at St. John’s
The Minnesota Department of Health has reported a new case of Legionnaires’ disease in a resident at St. John’s Lutheran Community on Fountain Lake, according to the St. John’s administrator.
Scot Spates said he was notified during a pre-scheduled conference call with the Department of Health on Friday that a resident of the organization’s assisted living building had tested positive for the disease and had been hospitalized. Spates was unsure if the resident has since been released from the hospital.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia that can be severe and includes symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and coughing. The disease is reportedly spread by inhaling aerosols from water sources containing legionella bacteria, and it is not spread from person to person.
St. John’s had another case reported in April, as well as five cases in 2018. The facility has been under extensive monitoring and treatment.
He said on April 24 and April 29, after the first case this year was reported, St. John’s hired a company to disinfect the water lines through a process that involves injecting chlorine dioxide into the lines at the water main and then spreading that through the system and into every spigot in the facility to kill the bacteria. After letting the chemical sit there for 24 hours, the chlorine is flushed out of the system and then the water is tested to make sure no residential chlorine is left that would be harmful to a person.
This process was completed again Aug. 26 through Aug. 28 because the facility was still seeing the legionella bacteria in its water tests.
Spates said water samples that were pulled Sept. 5 tested positive for legionella bacteria — but not the legionella pneumophila strain, which is primarily responsible for most cases of Legionnaires.
Samples pulled Sept. 19 were found to have the legionella pneumophila in two of the water samples — one at the nursing home and one at the assisted living building.
New samples were pulled Oct. 3, but those results are not yet available, Spates said. Secondary water treatment systems were installed Sept. 17 and Sept. 19 on the two water mains at the facility and have been running for two to three weeks.
Spates said it takes time for the chlorine dioxide to completely clean the lines, but he has been reassured that the system will eradicate the legionella bacteria. The system operates 24 hours a day, and anytime there is water used, the water gets treated.
“When it first showed up again in April, I was hoping after two or three months, this would be behind us,” Spates said. “Unfortunately, it isn’t, and I think that the secondary treatment system will help us put an end to this.”
In addition, staff have been and continue to flush all of the water lines three to five days a week.
Spates said the facility also continues to test its water through Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories. Every two weeks the company pulls 18 water samples and tests them for legionella bacteria.
“We’ll continue to do that until there’s no sign in those 18 water samples,” he said. There has to be two back-to-back samples without the bacteria to be considered clear.
After that, St. John’s will test monthly and then probably quarterly.
Water restrictions have been in place since April at the facility, which include providing bottled water for all of the residents, visitors and staff there. In addition, filtered shower heads designed to catch bacteria are changed every month.
Spates estimated the organization has spent about $250,000 to eradicate the facility of legionella bacteria since the first case came to light last year.
He said it took longer than he anticipated to get approval from the Department of Health for the water treatment system, but now that it has been approved and installed, he hopes to see some results.
He said he has also contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if its staff would be willing to look at the situation at St. John’s to provide some insight about what else can be done to eliminate the bacteria in the water.