For the second time in two years, patients at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) in Seattle, WA, have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to multiple news reports.

In this latest outbreak, three patients were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, including a woman in her 20s who died. Her case was reported to Seattle & King County Public Health, but the cause of her death has yet to be determined because she was “very ill [and] had multiple underlying conditions,” according to a statement by the health department.

The other two cases involve a man in his 40s, who has been discharged from the hospital, and a man in his 60s, who remains hospitalized. The latter patient appears to have caught the disease in the community and not at UWMC.

Between August and September of last year, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the hospital sickened five patients, two of whom – both in their 50s – died.

Hospital officials are limiting exposure to water sources – including tap and shower water – of patients, visitors and employees until the origin of the Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’, can be identified. The latest illnesses affected patients in the hospital’s Cascade Tower, the same tower affected last year.

Water samples tested as recently as July did not show the existence of Legionella within the hospital.

After last year’s incidents, the water system was flushed, and filters were installed to prevent the spread of Legionella, according to UW medical officials. The bacteria was found in sinks and ice machines during that occurrence. All known facility-based risk factors were corrected at that time.

Recent patients, visitors or employees of the hospital who are exhibiting pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, fever or shortness of breath, should contact Public Health by calling 206-296-4600. They should also seek immediate medical attention from their care providers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Legionnaires’ disease is often under-reported, so the full extent of the outbreak may not be known if people don’t report their condition.

Legionnaires’ disease on the rise in health-care facilities

In June, the CDC released information from a new study of the U.S. health-care industry and found that 76 percent of the facilities studied in 2015 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

The findings are especially alarming for residents living at, or patients admitted to the facilities, as 1 in 4 people infected in a health-care facility will die. The death rate is higher than for people who get the infection elsewhere; 1 in 10 are estimated to succumb to the disease overall.

According to the CDC’s analysis, among the Legionnaires’ disease cases associated with health-care facilities:

  • 80 percent were linked to long-term facilities; 18 percent with hospitals, and 2 percent with both
  • Cases were reported from 72 unique facilities, with the number of cases ranging from 1 to 6 per facility
  • 88 percent were in people 60 years of age or older.

Complications of Legionnaires’ disease

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk of infection include:

  • people 50 or oldersmokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • individuals suffering chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.

After Legionnaires’ disease is diagnosed, hospitalization is often necessary. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.