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UW Medical Center reports more Legionnaires' disease; one dies

University of Washington Medical Center (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE -- Two patients who have been diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease were likely exposed to the bacteria that causes the disease at the University of Washington Medical Center, according to Public Health - Seattle & King County.

A man in his 40s was reported to the health department on Aug. 23. He was being discharged from the hospital. The second patient, a woman in her 20,. was reported to the health department on Aug. 24 and died the next day.

Health officials said Friday she was very ill with multiple underlying conditions. Health officials says it not known whether Legionnaires' disease was the cause of her death.

A third patient, a man in his 60s, was reported by the UW Medical Center to health officials on Aug. 24. Health officials say the man was likely not infected at the hospital.

It is the second time in a year that the UW Medical Center has reported cases of Legionnaires' disease.

Last year, five patients were diagnosed at the hospital. Two of them died, and the medical center said the bacteria was found in ice machines, two sinks and a shower.

Health officials said the hospital then undertook an aggressive plan to manage its water system. Among other things, the water supply is monitored every 10 minutes and frequently tested for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease, said Dr. Tom Steiger, medical director at the hospital.

As with the cases a year ago, the new cases have been linked to the hospital's Cascade Tower.

An investigation into the new cases has been launched.

"Public Health is in the early phase of our investigation. We are working closely with UWMC to determine if other patients may have been infected, to identify a potential source of the infections, and to address any ongoing risk," the health department said.

"UWMC has taken immediate measures to protect patients, visitors and employees by limiting exposure to water sources, including tap and shower water, while they investigate the source. UWMC has also notified patients and staff of the situation. At this time, no additional cases of Legionella have been identified at UWMC."

Health officials say they have no evidence that shows there is a risk to the public outside the medical center.

The disease is a serious type of pneumonia. It's caused by breathing in small droplets of water that contain the bacteria.

In a letter to patients and others the UW Medical Center says it is:

  • Installing special filters at the Cascade Tower, where the two patients who had the disease were receiving care.
  • Limiting water use on all inpatient units at the Cascade Tower until filters are installed.
  • Using only bottled water.
  • Performing environmental testing.

The report of new cases of the disease worry people like Tammee Ryan, who son Jesse is receiving treatment at the Cascade Tower. He has a compromised immune system that puts him at higher risk to contract Legionnaire's.

"Here we are a year later, not even a year later, and we have another outbreak and my son can't leave this hospital because he needs to be there and I'm frightened for his health," she said.

"This is a hospital, and they knew about it last year and supposedly put in safeguards to prevent this, but here we are less than a year later and it happened again, and that's unacceptable.

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