Legionnaires' disease update: Church water fountain to be tested

Legionnaires' disease update: Church water fountain to be tested

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District plans to do testing Wednesday at a local church and two other locations that could potentially be connected with six cases of Legionnaires' disease in Champaign County.

First Christian Church, Champaign, was identified by state health officials as one investigation target.

However, just three of the six local people sickened by Legionnaires' — a severe form of pneumonia — since Sept. 15 had contact with the church, according to Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde.

The suspected source at the church is a decorative water fountain that has been turned off, she said. Water features such as fountains can pose a threat if the water becomes infected with Legionella bacteria, because the water can become aerosolized and people breathe it in, Pryde said.

The local health district isn't disclosing the other two investigation sites, and expects to have results within a couple of days, she said.

First Christian Church Lead Pastor Danny Schaffner, Jr. said the church has both an outdoor fountain and indoor baptismal fountain.

While the local health district contacted the church earlier Tuesday to inquire about testing a fountain, he said, church officials didn't learn until Tuesday night through a state press release that the church was an investigation target for Legionnaires' contamination. Tracking down the source of Legionnaires' disease requires extensive interviewing of the people who became sick as well as environmental testing, Pryde said.

"It can be difficult for people to remember what they did in the last 14 days," she said. "It's a matter of interviewing and re-interviewing, putting pieces together, looking for any commonality."

Meanwhile, Pryde advised anyone with pneumonia symptoms to seek medical care.

Not everyone exposed to the bacteria becomes sick, but people over age 50, smokers and those with chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system are considered to be most at risk.

Legionnaires' disease usually begins with symptoms such as high fever, chills, muscle pain and headache, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. It can also come with a cough, shortness of breath, chest pain and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea. It takes up to 14 days after exposure for symptoms to develop.

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