Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to ice machine, sinks at UW Medical Center

SEATTLE -- The water in some parts of the University of Washington Medical Center is infected with the bacteria linked to Legionnaires’ disease.

A second person in the outbreak has died; now a third person has been linked to having Legionnaires’.

Health officials said the water supply on the fifth floor of the Cascade Tower is now off-limits and could be for weeks.

While doctors said the problem shouldn’t worry the general public, patients recovering in the cardiac unit are at the highest risk for infection.

“We need to take appropriate measures to eliminate the source,” said Dr. Megan Kay with Public Health – Seattle/King County.

Officials from both UWMC and the health department identified a third case of Legionnaire’s disease after two cases were first reported last week.

Two patients have died and doctors said Legionnaire’s disease could be a cause.

“Legionnaires’ is not generally transmitted person to person,” said Kay. “It’s found in the water.”

Doctors said all the patients were inside the hospital’s cardiac unit in the Cascade Tower. Inspectors said water-quality tests found the bacteria in an ice machine and a couple of sinks.

“We’re taking all the necessary steps we can identify to find the cause of this bacteria and to treat our water source,” said UWMC Medical Director Dr. Tom Staiger.

Fifteen other patients in the cardiac wing have so far tested negative for the disease, said doctors.

Health officials said water has been shut off to all the fixtures on the 5th floor until special filters can be installed – and as a precaution, drinking water is being shipped in.

“We are looking at all potential pieces of equipment and water sources where an exposure could have taken place,” said Staiger.

Officials said the water system in the entire hospital is now under extra scrutiny with new rounds of quality tests while they figure out how to eliminate the bacteria.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to pneumonia with fever, cough, shortness of breath and muscle aches.

Hospital officials vowed to do whatever it takes to eliminate the risk of infection – but for now showers, sinks and drinking fountains are off-limits and could be until October when new tests results come back.