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

UW Health officials announced that one of the 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, serious health problems, and the “death was not unexpected,” said Lisa Brunette, UW Health director of media relations. Two of the initial four patients remain hospitalized and are in good condition, Brunette said.

No other information was released on any of the patients.

If you are a current or recent patient at University Hospital or are an employee at the facility and are feeling pneumonia- or flu-like symptoms, you should see your health-care provider out of an abundance of caution.

Legionnaires at 2nd Madison hospital
Another Madison hospital, St. Mary’s, also has confirmed a case of Legionnaires’ disease, according to Jennifer Miller, Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) communication specialist. The cases are unrelated, according to St. Mary’s spokesperson Lisa Adams, as their patient had no contact with University Hospital. Adams said the patient contracted the disease in the community, not in a health-care setting.

Legionnaires flurry in Wisconsin
Miller also said that the state has had 11 confirmed or suspected cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the past week. The other cases do not involve people or establishments in Dane County, and a wider outbreak is not suspected, according to Elizabeth Goodsitt, DHS communications specialist.

Officials at UnityPoint Health-Meriter, another Madison-area hospital, confirmed that they had not had any recent Legionnaires cases.

Change to water flow the problem?
Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Hospital and Clinics since 2009, said the University Hospital outbreak appears to be associated with a recent decision to reduce water flow during low-demand times in an attempt to save water. 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 tested positive for Legionella, but the problem is believed to be 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 finished hyper-chlorination of its water system to kill the bacteria Thursday, and the no-shower ban was then lifted within the facility.

Wisconsin hospitals have a history
In 2010, a decorative water wall in the hospital lobby at Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore in Cudahy, a Milwaukee-area hospital, was named as the source of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened eight, prompting St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison to shut down two decorative water walls for testing. At the time, University Hospital kept its three water walls running, and UnityPoint Health-Meriter closed one of its two water walls for mechanical repairs.

Legionnaires info

Legionella homes
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.

Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources:

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

Legionnaires symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe lung infection that people can get by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria.

The disease is similar to other types of pneumonia. Symptoms can even resemble those of the flu, which is why it often goes under-reported. Those symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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

A mild form of Legionnaires’ disease — known as Pontiac fever — can produce signs and symptoms including a fever, chills, headaches and muscle pains. Pontiac fever, however, doesn’t infect the lungs, and symptoms usually manifest within two to five days.

Difficult diagnosis
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. The bacterial infection is treatable with antibiotics, although if it is not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications and even become deadly. It is not contagious; that is, it cannot be passed from person to person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States on a yearly basis. 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 will die from the infection.

Seniors at risk

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

Most people exposed to Legionella do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older – especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions – are at a higher risk.

Other people more susceptible to infection include:

  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages.

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