MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin Hospital said Wednesday that it is taking measures to address the 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.
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 the levels low, but "a recent adjustment to that system may have compromised its function," hospital officials said.
Tests on some units within the hospital have recently shown elevated levels, the release said.
The four patients who developed symptoms of Legionnaires were tested, and all four tested positive for the urine test, according to the release. All four of the tests were conducted in the last 10 days. The hospital said testing is under way 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 water in a hot shower, hospital officials said. Cold tap water does not pose a risk. Healthy patients who may inhale water droplets with the bacteria is at low risk. Those with 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. This stoppage is expected to continue until sometime early Thursday.
The hospital monitors the water routinely and whenever a patient is suspected of having Legionnaires. Until now, there have not been any cases of Legionella acquired at the University Hospital in 23 years.
American Family Children's Hospital is not affected. Two of the four patients were discharged from the hospital; the other two remain hospitalized.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no additional cases of Legionnaires were identified, the hospital said.
UW Hospital said the Wisconsin State Division of Public Health has also been notified and will be kept informed as additional information comes in.
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