Two patients at a Washington State medical center have died of Legionnaires' disease and investigators have found evidence of the bacteria in an ice machine and two sinks in the cardiac unit of the hospital.
About 5,000 cases of Legionnaires' disease are reported each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of cases reported to the CDC has been on the rise over the past decade. The CDC speculates the increase is due to multiple factors, including an older U.S. population, more at-risk individuals, aging plumbing infrastructure, climate and increased use of diagnostic testing.
In late August and early September, University of Washington Medical Center reported two patients in their cardiac unit had contracted the disease -- a 30-year-old woman and a 50-year-old man. The woman died. A second woman, in her 50s, also died in from Legionnaires', but it is unclear whether the woman was a patient.
It is not the first outbreak of Legionnaires' at the hospital. A little more than a year ago, the hospital was cited by the state Department of Labor & Industries for violations that included low levels of Legionella bacteria in a hospital cooling tower that helps heat and cool buildings year-round. The hospital was fined $54,000 for other infractions, but nothing for the Legionella problem.
At least half a dozen states have reported Legionnaires' outbreaks just this summer, including four people infected in a Middletown, Pa., care home; four cases in an Ocean City, Md., condominium complex, and as many as 22 cases in a Connecticut hospital.
Last year, New York City had the largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the city's history centered in the South Bronx. At least 113 people were sickened and a dozen died. Investigators found 12 buildings in the South Bronx that tested positive for the bacteria.
Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia, a lung inflammation usually caused by infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. Legionnaires' disease is caused by a bacterium known as legionella. Most people get Legionnaires' disease from inhaling the bacteria. It cannot be passed from person-to-person contact. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Legionnaires' disease. The legionella bacterium also causes Pontiac fever, a milder illness with symptoms similar to the flu. Pontiac fever usually clears on its own, but untreated Legionnaires' disease can be fatal.
According to the CDC, Legionnaires' disease appears to be more common in the northeastern United States. Researchers are not certain why.
In addition to ice machines, drinking fountains and cooling towers, Legionella has also been found in hot tubs that are not drained after each use, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains.
If you or a loved one has been sickened due to water contamination, you may be entitled to a larger award. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.