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

The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at University Hospital on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison continues to worsen as UW Health officials announced that three patients have died. In addition, the case count has increased to 14.

The three patients who died all had “serious, life-limiting health conditions,” according to UW Health’s release. One patient remains hospitalized with serious health conditions, and 10 patients have been discharged and are recovering.

Lab testing of three of the patients confirmed that the strain of Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – was the same strain found in the hospital’s water system. Other patients were unable to provide samples for testing.

Chlorine introduced
The water system has been flushed with high levels of chlorine to eliminate the bacteria, and hospital officials said that procedure has been effective. “Testing completed so far continues to show the expected reduction in the bacteria,” the hospital’s release stated. “UW Health will continue intensive monitoring of its water system to ensure patient safety.”

UW Health announced Nov. 28 that there were four cases of the serious respiratory illness and attributed the outbreak to a change in its hot-water system, which was adjusted in an attempt to save water. “The flow was altered in the system,” said Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Hospital and Clinics. “So, instead of being at a consistent high flow, it was altered to be more flexible to be on demand.”

A fifth case and a fatality were announced Nov. 29, and the case count was raised to 11 in early December.

The hospital has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on its response to the outbreak, and a review and analysis from the CDC is expected in about three months.

Legionnaires FAQs

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease – also called legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of lung infection. According to the 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 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.

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.

Patients at higher risk
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:

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