Three people have died as a result of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at UW-Madison Hospital in Wisconsin, according to local media reports. A total of 14 people have been sickened with the pneumonia-like illness linked to bacteria in the hospital’s water system. One of them remains hospitalized.
“When Legionnaires’ disease is fatal and there is evidence linking it to the building’s water system, the family may have a wrongful death claim,” said Legionnaires’ disease lawyer Fred Pritzker. He and Eric Hageman, lead the Pritzker Hageman Legionnaires’ Disease Team which recently recovered a $3 million wrongful death settlement for the family of a woman who died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease at a hotel.
Legionnaires’ disease, or legionellosis, occurs when people inhale water vapor that is contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Symptoms, which include headache, high fever, muscle aches, cough and shortness of breath, usually develop within 10 days of exposure and last about a week. Legionella bacteria can also cause a milder respiratory illness called Pontic Fever.
Three groups at elevated risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease are people over 50, people who smoke or who have chronic lung disease, or people with weakened immune systems. Most people with Legionnaires’ disease need to be hospitalized. For one of every ten people who contract it, the infection proves fatal.
Legionnaires’ Disease at UW-Madison Hospital
All of the illnesses associated with this outbreak occurred among patients admitted to the hospital after October 31, 2018. Last month, Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Hospital, said the outbreak may be linked to the hospital’s decision to reduce water flow during low-demand times. That kind of reduction could make the system to more vulnerable to the growth of Legionella.
The hospital has resumed regular water flow and used a “hyperchlorination” process to flush the water system and kill any remaining Legionella. A hospital spokeswoman said the process was successful and they are continuing to monitor water quality.
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