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Health officials announced that six more illnesses were identified in the University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak in Madison, Wisconsin.

The additional cases increases the  Legionnaires’ disease outbreak case count to 11. The outbreak first made headlines Nov. 28, when four cases were confirmed. A fifth case and the death of one patient were announced Nov. 29.

At the time of the first announcement, health officials said they expected the count to grow because of the exposure window to Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Symptoms can present up to 14 days after exposure, and other patients could present symptoms until Dec. 12, according to a hospital press release.

Four patients remain hospitalized, while six have been discharged or were treated as outpatients. Those hospitalized are considered to be in stable condition, and officials said an antibiotic treatment protocol is working as expected.

The patient who passed away had been hospitalized with multiple, serious health problems. Lisa Brunette, UW Health direction of media relations, said at the time that the “death was not unexpected.”

Hyperchlorination of the hospital’s hot-water system has been successful in the reducing the bacteria, but monitoring at multiple sites within University Hospital is ongoing.

University Hospital Legionnaires: remediation

Officials for UW Health – the academic medical center and health system for the University of Wisconsin – said they are working with the Wisconsin Division of Public Health (DPH) on mitigation and testing efforts. They also said they have invited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to act as an additional expert resource.

John Marx, UW Health senior infection control practice specialist, said remediation efforts have been successful. “We are confident the hyperchlorination worked as expected,” he said. “An aggressive program of monitoring and screening is in place to ensure the system is functioning as designed. Our commitment to the safety of our patients is unwavering.”


University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak increases to 11
Six new illnesses were identified in the University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak in Madison, Wisconsin, increasing the case count to 11.

University Hospital Legionnaires: symptoms

If you are an employee of University Hospital, a patient there, or even just a visitor, and you are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your doctor out of an abundance of caution.

Legionnaires’ disease symptoms are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they can even resemble those of flu (influenza). Those symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting).

Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease called Pontiac fever can produce symptoms that include fever, chills, headaches, and muscle pains. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t affect the lungs.

University Hospital Legionnaires: high risk

Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but people most susceptible to becoming infected include:

  • anyone over the age of 50
  • smokers, current or former
  • anyone with a chronic lung disease or COPD (most commonly emphysema or bronchitis)
  • anyone with a weakened immune system
  • alcoholics
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • anyone on a specific drug protocol, such as corticosteroids.

University Hospital Legionnaires: diagnosis difficult

Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early, but if that does not occur, it can lead to severe complications and even become deadly. It is not contagious.

According to the CDC, about 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the U.S. annually. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Additionally, 10 percent of people who become infected with Legionella will die from the infection.

University Hospital Legionnaires: Legionella

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

Outbreaks have been linked to numerous sources:

  • water systems, liked those used in hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • large plumbing systems
  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems.
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • swimming pools, whirlpools, and hot tubs
  • mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
  • hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.