In an update on the Legionnaires’ Disease cases linked to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, five cases of possible nosocomial Legionnaires’ disease are now being investigated.
All five patients’ illnesses were confirmed by Legionella urinary antigen testing, and one patient was also culture positive for Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1. One patient died from the disease.
University Hospital is taking measures to address a suspected risk associated with the hospital’s hot-water system.
Legionellosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Legionella, which is naturally found in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water and can thrive in hot tubs, detachable shower nozzles, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings.
People can become ill when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) contaminated with Legionella. The disease is not spread by contact with an infected person.
Legionellosis can present in one of the following ways: as Legionnaires’ disease or as Pontiac fever. Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease usually begin two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and can consist of a high fever, chills, cough and pneumonia. In severe cases, it can be fatal. Pontiac fever is a milder illness and may not cause pneumonia.
Individuals most at risk of getting sick and developing complications from legionellosis include adults age 50 or older, as well as those who smoke, have chronic lung disease such as emphysema, have weak immune systems from conditions like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure or who take drugs that weaken the immune system.
Most healthy individuals who are exposed to Legionella do not develop symptoms. They can recover from the infection after treatment with antibiotics.
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