Two more patients at the UR Medical Center have been diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease following the first diagnosis of the current outbreak last week.

Of the two new cases, one of the patients died after being removed from life support this past Sunday. Part of the reason for the patient’s death, according to URMC, was the disease.

“We are not sure if any one of the patients contracted the disease from the same source,” URMC Environmental Health and Safety Liaison Peter Castronovo said. “They were all exposed at some point – there are a lot of different fronts that we are looking at.”

The first reported cases of Legionnaire’s disease were in Philadelphia in 1976. Since, the disease’s cause has been identified as the bacteria Legionella, which is present naturally in local bodies of water and even public water supplies.

Legionella was first discovered in the URMC water system on Feb. 13, two weeks after the diagnosis of a single patient with Legionnaire’s Disease on Jan. 27.

Since the discovery, URMC personnel have worked to rid the water system of the bacteria. Measures that have been taken include the chlorination of the building’s water supply and superheating of the water.

Legionella bacteria are generally dormant in cold water but become active and multiply when heated to temperatures between 70 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, the URMC hot water lines were an ideal breeding ground for infection.

The hospital patient who died Sunday was initially admitted to URMC in January and then released. The patient was subsequently readmitted on Feb. 10 for treatment of autoimmune hepatitis.

A third patient was diagnosed with Legionnaire’s Disease on Tuesday, after being admitted to URMC on Feb. 2 for leukemia treatment. This patient is described as being in satisfactory condition currently and is taking antibiotics to combat the infection, according to URMC.

Although URMC has taken measures to eradicate the bacteria in its water supply, no method of filtration or removal is completely effective. To prevent further spread of infection, patients in the main hospital facility and in the Ambulatory Care Facility have been drinking bottled water instead of tap water. Also, patients with reduced immune system function are not using the hospital’s showers.

Legionella bacteria cause infection in the human body through the lungs. Patients in the hospital are at particular risk without safety measures because the bacteria can be aspirated in the shower or while drinking from water fountains.

According to URMC, the water supply for the hospital’s Emergency Department has been tested and found to be free of the Legionella bacteria. Because of this discovery, that department has been cleared to use the public water supply instead of bottled sources.

Efforts to remove the threat of infection from the building continue. The Ambulatory Care Facility’s main water system was treated with superheated water in addition to chlorine on Monday night. These treatments should result in the removal of all bacteria from the water lines.

President Joel Seligman addressed the community yesterday with reassurrances indicating that the Legionella problem was being controlled and would not pose a threat to the UR community at large.

“Throughout this process, URMC leaders have been in close contact with the New York State Department of Health,” Seligman said. “Yesterday, DOH staff praised Strong’s Infection Control, Facilities and Administrative staff for their vigilant and thorough response.”

Members of the URMC staff believe that there is no threat to any current UR students from Legionnaire’s Disease. “There really is no more risk to people on campus than there was a week ago,” Castronovo said. “I feel very confident that the hospital is doing everything possible in this situation.”Jarrett can be reached at bjarrett@campustimes.org.



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