National Consumer News

Legionella bacteria found in UWMC water supply


A bacteria that causes a potentially serious type of pneumonia was found in some of the University of Washington Medical Center’s water supply.

Two people who received care in the cardiac unit died with contributing factors of Legionella bacteria; a Legionella infection can cause Legionaries’ Disease.

Key developments:

  • Last week two known patients were hospitalized at UWMC’s cardiac care unit with the disease.
  • One of those patients died in the hospital; the other patients was discharged.
  • Officials believe the infection was contracted at the center.
  •   On Wednesday, UWMC said a third patient in the cardiac care unit died.
  • Environmental samples of UWMC’s water supply in the Cascade Tower, which includes their cardiac care unit, tested positive for Legionella.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by breathing in small droplets of water that contain Legionella. image: CDC
  • Legionnaires’ disease is caused by breathing in small droplets of water that contain Legionella, a bacteria found naturally in freshwater environments.
  • Signs are posted in the hospital telling people to not use hallway fountains or other sources of hospital drinking water.

Graham Johnson is following this story for a report on KIRO 7 News at 5 p.m. 

King County Public Health officials said Thursday they were investigating Legionnaires’ disease to protect patient and staff safety, and to assure that patients with pneumonia get appropriate laboratory testing.

Public Health released this timeline of events on its blog:

  • Aug.  26, 2016: First patient reported. Patient’s history suggested that exposure to Legionella might have been at the hospital or in the community before the patient’s hospital stay.
  • Sept. 6, 2016: This patient was at UWMC during “the entire exposure period.

One of the patients was discharged; the other died in the hospital, officials announced Friday. Public Health believes Legionella was a contributing factor in the patient’s death.

The UWMC held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss how they are working to minimize the risk to patients and staff.

During the conference, they announced another patient in their cardiac care unit died. This patient had pneumonia, and Legionella may have been a contributing factor.

Similarly to the first death, UWMC says exact cause of death has not yet been determined. The death happened on Aug. 27, but the connection with Legionella was made during an autopsy.

Officials say signs are posted in the hospital telling patients, families and guests not to use hallway fountains or other sources of hospital drinking water.

KCPH is working with UWMC with assessing the extent of the problem and help identify the source of the bacteria.

“We can’t predict if additional cases will be identified at UWMC, but it is possible because of exposures that happened at the hospital before the Legionella was identified and protective actions were put into place,” a KCPH staff member wrote on its blog. “However, for most people, the risk of Legionella is very low. All three patients who developed Legionnaire’s disease were at high risk for this infection.”

To read about Legionella from the CDC, click here.

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