Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Legionnaires lawyer Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires’ disease in Madison, Wisconsin, you might have cause to file a lawsuit. Call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Four patients at UW Health’s University Hospital on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, the hospital’s first cases of hospital-acquired Legionella in 23 years.

Two patients have been discharged, while the other two remain hospitalized. The ages of the four range from 45 to 80 years old, and all were experiencing health-related issues before they contracted Legionnaires. All confirmed positive on a urine test, which was conducted within the past 10 days.

There is concern that other Legionnaires’ disease cases will surface.

“It’s a frightening thing for most patients to hear,” said Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Hospital and Clinics since 2009. “But we care for a very sick population, so we’re very cognizant of the concerns they have.”

High-risk categories
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 years of age or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).

Hot water system at fault?
The cause of the disease is believed to the hospital’s hot water system, which recently was adjusted in an attempt to save water. “The flow was altered in the system,” Safdar said. “So, instead of being at a consistent high flow, it was altered to be more flexible to be on demand.”

Hospital officials said steps were being taken to address the suspected risk to patients, including:

  • The use of hospital showers was temporarily halted when they became aware of the Legionnaires diagnoses.
  • A “hyperchlorination” process was performed to flush all hot-water lines in the building to eliminate Legionella.
  • Hospital officials notified patients and staff of the situation.

University Hospital is a 505-bed regional medical center located at 600 Highland Ave.

American Family Children’s Hospital, located at 1675 Highland Ave., is not affected, according to the news release. It is an 87-bed facility with pediatric and surgical neonatal intensive care unit, located next to University Hospital.

Legionnaires FAQs

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the U.S. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics if it is diagnosed early enough. If that does not occur, however, it can lead to severe complications and even can become deadly.

How is Legionella contracted?
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.

Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and clusters have been linked to a number of sources, including:

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

What are the symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease develops anywhere from two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. Symptoms frequently begin with the following:

  • severe headache
  • muscle aches and pains
  • chills
  • high fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By day two or three, other symptoms develop, including:

  • coughing, which often brings up mucus and sometimes blood
  • difficulty breathing, also known as dyspnea
  • chest pains
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
  • confusion and other mental changes.

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