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UW Health officials said one of four patients diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease at University Hospital on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has died, and a fifth case has been confirmed.

The patient who died was treated for multiple health problems, and the “death was not unexpected,” said Lisa Brunette, UW Health director of media relations. Two of the initial four patients diagnosed are still hospitalized in good condition, Brunette said.

No other information was released on the patients.

If you are or have been a patient at University Hospital – or work there – and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your doctor out of an abundance of caution.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak: St. Mary’s, too

St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison also has a confirmed case of Legionnaires’ disease, according to Jennifer Miller, Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) communication specialist.

Lisa Adams, a spokesperson for St. Mary’s Hospital, said the cases are unrelated, since the St. Mary’s patient has had no contact with University Hospital. Adams also said the St. Mary’s patient contracted her disease in the community.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak worsens: 1 dead, 5 sickened

The University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has worsened: One patient is dead, and a fifth was confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak: water flow

Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Hospital and Clinics, said the University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak appears to be associated with a decision to reduce water flow during low-demand times. That is believed to have made the water system more vulnerable to the growth of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Regular flow has been resumed.

Parts of the hospital’s water system tested positive for Legionella, but the problem is more than likely facility-wide. “Once it’s in the hot water, it could be anywhere,” Safdar said. “The assumption is that the entire hospital needs to be mitigated.”

University Hospital officials said they have finished hyper-chlorination of the water system to kill the bacteria. In addition, they said the facility’s no-shower ban has been lifted.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak: flurry in state

Miller said Wisconsin has experienced 11 confirmed or suspected cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the past week. The other cases do not involve Dane County, and a wider outbreak is not suspected, said Elizabeth Goodsitt, DHS communications specialist.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak: disease info

Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe lung infection that is most commonly contracted by breathing in small droplets of water (mist or vapor) containing Legionella bacteria.

The disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of flu (influenza):

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • 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.

Legionella sources
Legionella bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments. Outbreaks have been linked to numerous sources:

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

Diagnosis difficult
When diagnosed early enough, Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics. If not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications, and it can even become deadly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 25,000 annual cases of pneumonia due to Legionella pneumophila – the scientific term for Legionella bacteria – in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Additionally, 10 percent of those who become infected will die from the disease.

University Hospital Legionnaires outbreak: seniors at risk

A 2015 study by the CDC showed that “75 percent of (Legionnaires’ disease) acquired in health-care settings could be prevented with better water management.”

Still, most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, although people 50 years old and older – especially smokers or people with chronic lung conditions – are at a greater risk.

Other people more susceptible to infection include:

  • anyone with a weakened immune system
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • anyone on a specific drug protocol, such as corticosteroids
  • alcoholics.

After Legionnaires’ disease has been diagnosed, hospitalization is almost always required. Complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.