st. albert the great church

Health officials link Legionnaires disease to Burbank church

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By Bob Bong

St. Albert the Great Church held masses as usual last Sunday just days after state and Stickney Township health officials said bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease was detected in the Burbank church’s cooling tower.

A cluster of cases of the disease reported to health officials put the onset dates of the disease between June and August.

Laboratory tests detected the presence of Legionella bacteria in the church’s cooling tower after the Illinois Department of Public Health’s environmental health staff inspected the church and collected samples, a IDPH statement said.

Three cases were “epidemiologically linked” and one case was geographically linked to the church, according to the IDPH.

The IDPH has alerted hospitals and health providers in the area to consider Legionnaires’ disease in diagnosing patients with clinically compatible illnesses, the statement said.

Additionally, local and state health departments investigating cases of Legionnaires’ disease were asked to inquire about any time spent in Burbank during the 14 days prior to onset of symptoms.

Health officials said the church was fully cooperating in the shutdown of the cooling tower and notifying parishioners of the situation, according to the statement, which added that the cooling tower will be shut down until Legionella is no longer detected.

“As the epidemiological and environmental investigation of this Legionnaires’ disease cluster continues, it is important to release this information to ensure that anyone with risk factors who feels symptoms is aware and seeks evaluation and treatment,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in the statement.

Church pastor Rev. Mariusz Nawalaniec posted a statement September 2 on Facebook stating the disease was confirmed to be in the tower.

He said the tower only services the church and assists its air conditioning system. He said other parish buildings and the school had separate air conditioning systems that were not affected by the bacteria.

He said the church’s air conditioning system was shut down as a precaution and a remediation plan was implemented.

He urged parishioners and anyone who might have been in the church in the past 14 days and who had shown any symptoms to please contact their doctor and let them know there had been an outbreak.

According to the IDPH, Legionnaires’ disease usually begins with a high fever (102 degrees to 105 degrees), chills, muscle aches, cough and shortness of breath.

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection (pneumonia) that people can get by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria. It is not transmitted 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, according to the IDPH. 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, the statement said.

People at increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease are those 50 years of age or 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.

In 2021, Illinois reported 522 cases of Legionnaires’ disease statewide, with 227 confirmed to date in 2022.

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