Local, state officials investigating Legionnaires’ cases at St. John’s on Fountain Lake

Published 5:02 pm Friday, July 20, 2018

Local and state officials are investigating two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at St. John’s on Fountain Lake.

The first resident’s symptoms reportedly began in early June, and the second resident’s symptoms were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday, according to a press release. Both residents were hospitalized.

The Department of Health is reportedly working with Freeborn County Public Health, the city of Albert Lea and other agencies during the investigation, according to the release.

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The first patient has since been released from the hospital. The condition of the second patient is unknown.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia that can be severe, making prompt diagnosis and antibiotic treatment important, the Health Department said. Symptoms reportedly include 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.

As part of the investigation, Department of Health epidemiologists are working at St. John’s on Fountain Lake to identify the cause of the disease.

Kathy Como-Sabetti, Department of Health epidemiologist supervisor of the emerging infections unit, said the investigation is focusing on the building and the premise, including its plumbing and cooling tower.

Residents are reportedly recommended to only take sponge baths, not drink faucet water, not use ice machines and not use water sprayers until a water hygienist conducts a full assessment.

“MDH is working with St. John’s Fountain Lake to identify possible sources of Legionella and has recommended that facility management work with a consultant to test and remediate those sources as needed,” the release states. “In the meantime, MDH is recommending a number of protective measures to minimize the chance for residents to be exposed to any Legionella bacteria.”

The recommendations are reportedly based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“They are only for residents, people visiting and workers at St. John’s Fountain Lake,” the release states. “Albert Lea’s municipal water supply meets water quality standards.”

The facility has provided notices to residents about the recommendations and has started implementing them.

St. John’s Administrator Scot Spates said the senior living facility is working with Innovational Concepts Inc. to assess the water systems and Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories to test the samples. Work could begin early next week.

The facility had testing done on a cooling tower in June, he said. Samples came back negative for the presence of Legionella.

The approximately 100 residents of St. John’s on Fountain Lake were notified of the recommendations after a conference call between the senior living facility staff and the Department of Health on Friday afternoon. The recommendations will continue at least through testing.  

The Department of Health said cases of Legionnaires’ disease have increased in Minnesota and nationally, and most cases are diagnosed in summer and early fall and are not linked to specific outbreaks.

“Most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease,” the release states. “People over the age of 50, smokers or those with certain medical conditions — including weakened immune systems, diabetes, chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions — are at an increased risk for Legionnaires’ disease. If you have concerns, please seek medical attention and inform your health care provider.”

The facility, which includes assisted living, independent living and nursing home facilities, had its grand opening in October.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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