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A patient has contracted Legionnaires’ disease while receiving treatment for cancer at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, the third consecutive year that the deadly respiratory illness has hit the hospital.

The news comes nine months after a female patient in her 20s died after contracting Legionnaires’ while at the University of Washington Medical Center. She was one of three patients sickened with the disease in August of last year (one patient became ill in the community, not at the hospital).

Five people became ill with the severe type of pneumonia in 2016, and two of those patients died. All seven of the patients sickened at the hospital in the past two years became ill while at the University of Washington Medical Center building called Cascade Tower.

The latest illness occurred while the patient was being treated at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) unit. According to hospital officials, the patient is recovering and in satisfactory condition. (The patient’s gender and age were not reported.)

The hospital has begun an investigation to determine the location of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, and if or to what extent the bacteria still exists. All respiratory specimens taken from patients are being tested for Legionella.

Hospital staff has talked to all patients being cared for at the SCCA, and also family members. In addition, two rooms in which the ill patient received care have been closed, and an ice machine has been replaced, a hospital spokesperson said. Environmental testing is being conducted to try to pinpoint exactly where and when the person contracted the disease.

University of Washington Medical Center officials are investigating this latest illness in conjunction with Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Washington State Department of Health.

Hospital officials said they have implemented intensive water management, which includes testing and monitoring of water temperature, chlorine levels, and tests for the presence of Legionella. Special filters have been installed on all showers and sinks in the Cascade Tower’s in-patient rooms.

Officials of both University of Washington Medical Center and the SCCA said the case is believed to be isolated. They pointed out that “Legionella bacteria are rarely – if ever – transmitted from person to person.”

University of Washington Medical Center

A patient has contracted Legionnaires’ disease while undergoing treatment for cancer at the University of Washington Medical Center, marking the third consecutive year that the deadly respiratory illness has hit the hospital.

Washington Medical Center:
Legionnaires’ disease info

Legionnaires’ disease is also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of pneumonia, or lung infection.

About 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms. Ten percent of people who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (mist or vapor). Legionella bacteria grow best in warm water, and are found primarily in human-made environments.

Numerous Legionella sources
Outbreaks have been linked to multiple sources, including:

  • water systems, such those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • large plumbing systems
  • showers and faucets
  • whirlpools and hot tubs, like those in hotel pool areas
  • physical therapy equipment
  • hot-water heaters and hot-water tanks
  • swimming pools
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • air conditioning system cooling towers.

Many high-risk categories
Anyone can become ill from Legionella bacteria, but people most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years or older
  • both current and former smokers
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols, such as corticosteroids.

Pneumonia-, flu-like symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of flu. That’s the primary reason Legionnaires’ disease is under-reported year in and year out.

Symptoms generally include:

  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • high fever
  • muscle aches and pains
  • severe and constant headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.