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R.I. nursing home taking precautions for Legionnaires'

Providence Journal - 1/23/2020

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Families of patients at Scallop Shell were briefed Wednesday about Legionnaires' disease and precautions taken since a patient was diagnosed and later died.

Legionnaires' disease may not have been the cause of death, a spokesman for the state Department of Health said Wednesday.

Petal Lavallee, a registered nurse who also has a degree in chronic disease management, is a supervisor at the facility. "We had a big informational meeting" for families, with health and water management experts. Nobody got excited," she said.

Since the diagnosis, the entire facility, known as Elderwood of Scallop Shell at Wakefield, has been using bottled water for drinking and cooking. Every filter, for air or water, has been replaced, she said, and every nozzle, faucet, drain, screen and shower head, "anywhere water would come out," was replaced.

Water dispensers that fill a cup with hot or cold water are standing idle.

Precautions will continue until test results show no trace of the bacteria, she said.

"It's really not alarming, because if I have it, and you come and talk to me, you wouldn't catch it, but if we were in a steam room, and I was coughing and coughing ... it has to be spread through a mist," she said.

Lavallee has never seen a case of Legionnaires' in her 37 years as a nurse, the last four at Scallop Shell.

Legionnaires' is a lung infection, like pneumonia. The bacteria occurs naturally in streams and ponds, and most people don't get sick, according to online information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those who do get sick, about one in ten are likely to die, or one in four if the person is in a health-care facility.

Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken said that in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, 73 people in Rhode Island contracted the disease. Of those, 10 died.

An estimated 10,000 cases were diagnosed nationally in 2018.

The disease was discovered at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Some attendees contracted pneumonia, and some died. Water in the hotel's cooling tower spread the bacteria.

People older than 50 or who have a chronic lung disease or weakened immune system are at risk. They are advised to stay away from structures with complex water systems, such as hotels, resorts, long-term care facilities, hospitals and cruise ships. Showers, hot tubs and splashing fountains are ideal for spreading the disease.

Wendelken praised Scallop Shell's actions. He was careful not to specify when the patient died, saying only "this month," and not to indicate whether the victim was a man or woman, only elderly.

-- dnaylor@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7411

On Twitter: @donita22

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