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 at UW Health’s University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, you might have cause to file a lawsuit. Call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

The University Hospital Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Madison, Wisconsin, has been making headlines since late November, but the UW Health hospital is not the only one in the news.

Spectrum Health Pennock in Hastings, Michigan, tested several locations around the hospital after two patients were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, and test results were positive for Legionella. One patient died.

In addition, an inspection of the water system at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) uncovered Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.

A spokesperson for New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital said, “The water supply of many large buildings and hospitals often contains small amounts of Legionella bacteria, and most people who are exposed to Legionella will not become ill. If Legionella does cause an infection, it is treatable with antibiotics and does not generally pose a threat to the public.”

As a safety measure, hospital officials said they have put in water restrictions and taken steps to disinfect the water sources. The NYSDOH is investigating with the aid of hospital officials.

Murky situation in Michigan
The patient who died in Michigan was a 92-year-old man diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in November. He was treated for the disease and discharged to a rehab center, where he died from “chronic aspiration pneumonia,” according to Dr. J. Daniel Woodall, Barry-Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD) medical director. Woodall said it’s “not possible to determine if (his death) was linked to Legionnaires’ disease.”

Spectrum Health Pennick officials said they’re unsure if the patient caught the disease from the hospital’s water supply and whether the disease is what killed him because his case was “very complex,” and he had other health issues.

The other patient was discharged from the hospital and has since recovered. They were treated for Legionnaires’ disease in September, but it’s also unknown whether their illness was hospital-acquired. Their age and gender were not released.

UW Health outbreak timeline
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) was alerted Nov. 28 by UW Health of confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease among patients admitted to University Hospital since Oct. 31. At that time, UW Health officials attributed the infections to a change in the hospital’s hot-water system. “The flow was altered in the system,” said Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control for UW Health. “So, instead of being at a consistent high flow, it was altered to be more flexible to be on demand.”

On Nov. 29, UW Health officials announced a fifth case as well as the first fatality. The case count was increased to 11 in early December, and it rose to 14 on Dec. 18, with two more deaths reported. A UW Health statement said the patients who died all had “serious, life-limiting health conditions.”

Additionally, test results confirmed that the Legionella strain in three patients was identical to the strain found in University Hospital’s water system. The other 11 patients did not provide samples for testing.

Legionnaires’ info

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 25,000 annual cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila). Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Legionnaires’ disease – which is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early. If that does not occur, however, severe complications can develop, and the disease can become deadly, as evidenced by the UW Health outbreak.

Disease symptoms
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of influenza (flu), which is why it often goes under-reported. Early symptoms generally include:

  • severe headaches
  • muscle aches
  • suppressed appetite
  • fever (104 degrees or higher) and chills.

Symptoms can then worsen to include:

  • pleuritic chest pain (pain caused by inflamed lungs)
  • dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • cough, which can produce blood and mucus
  • gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting (about one-third of Legionnaires cases produce these symptoms)
  • mental agitation and confusion.

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

About 10 percent of people infected with Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) will die from the infection.

High-risk categories
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, 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).

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

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

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