A patient was sickened with Legionnaires’ Disease at the IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana last week. The illness was transmitted through the water in the hospital.
The IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Chief Operating Officer and Chief Medical Officer said that the results were positive for the illness. The patient is very ill, but the hospital would not comment further on his or her current condition. Water samples have been sent for testing, and the hospital has hired an expert to help control the risk of further infections.
The hospital has stopped all water usage in bathrooms and common areas and is using bottled water while testing is underway. Surgeries can continue and the kitchen hospital is open, since water used in those areas is heated to 140°F, which kills legionella bacteria. The water was shut off to the entire facility on Sunday, April 3, 2016 for about eight hours while the system was flushed with with chlorine.
Legionnaires’ Disease primarily affects people over the age of 50, former or current smokers, people with chronic lung diseases such as emphysema, and anyone with a weakened immune system or chronic serious illness. The symptoms of Legionnaires Disease are very similar to pneumonia, including fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, and diarrhea. The illness does not spread from person-to-person. The fatality rate for this illness is about 10 to 30%.
Water systems in large buildings, particularly those that are older, can harbor this bacteria. It is spread through showers, mist from fountains and air conditioning units, as well as cooling towers, hot tubs, and HVAC units. Cleaning and sanitizing these systems can be very difficult.
About 15,000 Americans are hospitalized with Legionnaire’s Disease every year. Since the illness symptoms are so similar to pneumonia, some people may die without a proper diagnosis. In fact, many Legionnaire’s cases are first diagnosed as pneumonia. Then, when more people from the same location or same area present with the same symptoms, Legionnaire’s Disease is considered. The illness requires treatment with antibiotics.