Officials with the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison report taking action after four patients had developed symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella pneumophila bacteria/CDC
Legionella pneumophila bacteria/CDC

Those affected include three formerly hospitalized patients and one inpatient .

When hospital officials learned that four patients had developed symptoms of Legionnaires’, the patients were tested and all four tested positive on a urine test. All four of those tests were conducted in the past 10 days. Currently, the hospital is conducting tests to determine if the bacteria are related to the hospital water system.

University Hospital uses a water treatment system designed to keep levels low, but a recent adjustment to that system may have compromised its function. Tests on some units within the hospital recently have shown elevated levels.

When the hospital became aware of the four patients with Legionnaires’, officials stopped all use of hospital showers. That is expected to continue until sometime early Thursday. This afternoon, the hospital will implement a “hyperchlorination” process to flush all hot-water lines in the building to eliminate any Legionella bacteria. The hospital has also notified affected patients and staff of the situation.

The hospital monitors water routinely and whenever a patient is suspected to have Legionnaires’. There have been no cases of Legionella acquired at University Hospital in 23 years.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria. It can be very serious and even cause death.  Most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics and healthy people usually recover from the infection.

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The disease is spread through breathing in tiny water droplets containing the Legionella bacteria.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person.

Legionella bacteria is most commonly found in warm water, especially stagnant or standing water.  Legionella bacteria can be found naturally in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams; it has also been isolated in manmade water systems such hot tubs, cooling towers, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains.