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Fatal Legionnaires' disease breakout confirmed at UW Medical Center

The bacteria that causes deadly Legionnaires’ disease has been found in the water supply in part of the UW Medical Center, health officials said Wednesday.

The disease has killed at least one patient at the hospital, and another patient was sickened but recovered.

Legionella bacteria was found in a third patient who died, but officials say it's not clear whether the disease killed that person.

Officials with UW Medicine and Public Health/King County & Seattle say there’s no danger to the general public.

But Dr. Tom Staiger, medical director at UW Medicine, said the discovery of the bacteria has been concerning for staff, patients and their families.

“We've asked our clinicians to be especially vigilant, with patients who represent with respiratory problems,” he said. “And we've begun screening for legionella bacteria in respiratory cultures of all of our inpatients sent to the lab. Thus far all 15 of those cultures that have been sent have been negative.”

Staiger adds that health specialists are taking every necessary step to find the source.

Legionella bacteria have been confirmed in the water supply in the fifth-floor cardiac unit in the Center's Cascade Tower.

It was found in two sinks, a shower and an ice machine.

The patients were all treated in that cardiac unit.

Dr. Meagan Kay, a medical epidemiologist, says the three patients had high-risk factors for contracting Legionnaires'.

She said those factors include “past or present smokers, underlying lung disease, or people who have weakened immune systems or medications that might weaken their immune system.”

Staff was told to use only bottled water until special filters are installed.

That was expected to be completed Wednesday.

Legionnaires’ disease was identified after a 1976 outbreak sickened dozens of people at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.

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