Elliot Olsen has regained millions of dollars for people harmed by Legionnaires’ disease. If you or a family member contracted Legionnaires at Ochsner Medical Center, please call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation.

Ochsner Health System officials reported two patients at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, also known as Legionella pneumonia.

No information was released on the condition of the patients, whether they were diagnosed at the Jefferson Highway hospital, still admitted to the hospital, or when the illnesses were diagnosed.

“Preliminary environmental test results detected Legionella bacteria at OMC–Jefferson Highway,” according to a statement released by Ochsner on its website. “The cultures obtained lead us to believe the bacteria were from isolated fixtures and not in our water system.”

Ochsner Medical Center outbreak: stagnant water?

A person contracts Legionella bacteria by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as:

  • water systems of large buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, etc.)
  • large plumbing systems
  • hot-water heaters and tanks
  • bathroom showers and faucets
  • physical-therapy equipment
  • whirlpools and hot tubs
  • swimming pools
  • air-conditioning system cooling towers
  • mist machines and hand-held sprayers
  • decorative fountains.

Warm, stagnant water provides the right conditions for growth, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The organism can multiply at temperatures between 68 degrees and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and temps of 90 degrees to 105 degrees are optimal for that to occur.

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

Ochsner Medical Center outbreak: remediation

A statement from hospital officials emphasized: “These cases have not been confirmed to have been acquired at OMC–Jefferson Highway.”

Still, those officials also said that precautionary steps are being enacted to ensure a safe environment for OMC’s patients, visitors, and staff:

  • Extensive water testing is in progress across all of OMC–Jefferson Highway and will be ongoing for at least one year. OMC tests routinely as part of its water-management plan.
  • OMC is implementing a response plan to remove any bacterial strains that could be in the water system.
  • The rooms where the patients received care were taken out of service.
  • OMC is augmenting its mechanical water delivery systems where appropriate.
  • OMC’s Infection Prevention department will assess all patients at risk of pneumonia for Legionella and recommend additional testing when appropriate to the attending physicians.
  • OMC is partnering closely with the Office of Public Health for its expertise and resources.

Ochsner Medical Center outbreak: seek help if ill

Current or recent patients, visitors to the hospital, and employees of OMC–Jefferson Highway should seek care from your health-care provider if you are feeling flu- or pneumonia-like symptoms.

Symptoms often can be mistaken for common flu, and they usually develop two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella. 

Because many symptoms are similar to those of flu or pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease often is overlooked or undiagnosed, leading to it being underreported, according to the CDC.

For Legionnaires’ disease to be classified correctly, specific testing and diagnosis must be done from a Legionnaires-specific standpoint, and those tests often are not ordered. It is not required for physicians to order Legionella-specific testing when a patient presents with pneumonia.

Ochsner Medical Center outbreak: symptoms

Initial symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • chills
  • fever, which can be 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

By the second or third day, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • cough, which can bring up mucus or blood
  • shortness of breath, or dyspnea
  • chest pains, or pleurisy and pleuritis
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • confusion and other mental changes.
Ochsner Medical Center outbreak: more on Legionnaires
  • Legionellosis is the collective term for the two diseases caused by Legionella bacteria: Legionnaires’ disease, which is also called Legionella pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a less-severe illness.
  • Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body, including the heart.
  • An average of 31 legionellosis cases has been reported in Louisiana since 2008, according to the Louisiana Department of Health’s 2018 Louisiana Health Report Card. Except for an outbreak in 1989, there generally has been an increasing trend in legionellosis reports from 1990 to 2017, with a peak in 2014.
  • In 1989, there was a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Bogalusa, Louisiana, that resulted in 33 illnesses, including eight deaths. The source of those infections was identified as a grocery store’s ultrasound mist device, which created a fine mist that was more easily inhaled than the larger droplets put out by standard mist machines. It was the first known outbreak linked to a misting device, according to health officials.