MADISON, Wis. – State health officials say it's a record year for Legionnaires' disease cases in the state. This is the type of pneumonia that has seen five UW Hospital patients diagnosed this week.
One of these patients was already seriously ill and died this week after being diagnosed, which usually occurs in people with weak immune systems. It is caused by legionella.
"We've seen a lot of Legionnaires' Disease this year," said Thomas Haupt, the respiratory epidemiologist at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. "It's a record pace, and we're not proud of that … It's a potential 10 percent death toll for people affected by it."
Haput said that Legionnaire's disease is more common than one might think, and perhaps more frequently over the years.
In 2010, Wisconsin DHS data showed that the state had 63 confirmed cases. That has increased to 160 in 2013, and this number is approaching 300 in November this year.
"We're doing everything we can, keeping an eye on things," Haupt said, adding that the trend is mirroring national level. "It's just an inexplicable year for Legionnaires disease."
He said it was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the disease caused by a particular type of bacteria.
"It is frustrating for everyone including patients and families," said Haupt.
A hot water system at UW Hospital is the probable cause of five legionnaires' illnesses that spread from contaminated water through inhalation in the mist.
The way that water is contaminated could come from companies' homes and pipelines.
"People probably do not think too much about plumbing in their homes, but it really does affect the water quality," said Madison Water Utility Public Information Officer Amy Barrilleaux. "We do a great deal of work to make sure the water is safe when it gets to your home, it's disinfected, it's ready to go, but once it gets there you need to take care of all the plumbing in your house "
She said that water is disinfected in homes and businesses with chlorine, but stagnant water with hot water in sanitary systems runs the risk of bacteria growing, such as those causing legionnaires' disease.
"From these extra baths or somewhere, somewhere, just use that water there, because if you turn on the faucet after a few months, that water has been sitting in that faucet for a few months," said Barrilleaux.
Chief health experts are themselves still not sure why Legionnaire's disease is on the rise nationwide, but the DHS website said it could be a combination of factors such as increased reporting, more vulnerable people and / or more legionella bacteria in the area
 Haupt said that the fact that UW had no cases of legionnaires' illness in the hospital 23 days before this week is a good track record and there is no risk to the public at the time.  He said: However, if you or a loved one was in the hospital for a long time and on an L inflammatory disease, it is worthwhile to be examined.
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