UW Hospital hot water system may put patients at risk for type of pneumonia, officials say

Hospital reports 4 cases of Legionnaires' disease
UW Hospital hot water system may put patients at risk for type of pneumonia, officials say

The University of Wisconsin Hospital said Wednesday afternoon that it’s taking measures to address a suspected risk to patients associated with the hospital’s hot water system.

UW Hospital said three formerly hospitalized patients and one inpatient have developed Legionnaires’ Disease, also called legionellosis, a type of pneumonia.

UW Health has updated us on the cases of Legionnaires traced back to the hospital. They are flushing the water system tonight with high levels of chlorine to kill the bacteria responsible. #news3 pic.twitter.com/rzTfBqeX10

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) November 28, 2018

On Wednesday 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.

According to the release, Legionnaires’ is caused by bacteria that are typically present at low concentrations in tap water. UW Hospital said it uses a water treatment system designed to keep levels low, but a “recent adjustment to that system may have compromised its function,” hospital officials said. Tests on some units within the hospital recently have shown elevated levels, the release said.

The four patients who had developed symptoms of Legionnaires’ were tested, and all four tested positive on a urine test, according to the release. All four of the tests were conducted within the past 10 days. The hospital said testing is underway to determine if the bacteria are related to the hospital water system.

The risk comes only from hot water in the form of airborne droplets, such as the water in a hot shower, hospital officials said. Cold tap water doesn’t pose a risk. Healthy patients who may inhale water droplets with the bacteria is at low risk. Those at higher risk are patients who are 50 years old or older and patients with lung disease or compromised immune systems.

When the hospital became aware of the four patients with Legionnaires’, officials stopped all use of hospital showers. That stoppage is expected to continue until sometime early Thursday.

The hospital monitors water routinely and whenever a patient is suspected to have Legionnaires’. Until now, there haven’t been any cases of Legionella acquired at University Hospital in 23 years.

American Family Children’s Hospital is not affected. Two of the four patients have been discharged from the hospital; the other two remain hospitalized.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no additional cases of Legionnaires’ had been identified, the hospital said.

UW Hospital said the Wisconsin state Division of Public Health has also been notified and will be kept apprised as additional information comes in.

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