Legionnaires' outbreak at NJ hospital

September 23, 2008 7:25:01 PM PDT
A New Jersey hospital is taking action after several patients came down with Legionnaires' disease.The State Department of Health confirms six cases, three men and three women, including one fatality, at Saint Peter's University Hospital. Officials say all of them had other underlying illnesses, and that the five patients are still hospitalized.

Officials at the Middlesex County Public Health Department say they were made aware of the Legionella situation at Saint Peter's last Tuesday, and that staff from the Epidemiology and Inspection Divisions met with hospital officials and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services the following day to investigate the cases and to find the common source.

Efforts are reportedly being made by both the hospital and the health department to remediate the problem. Officials say the hospital has been taking the necessary steps to further investigate any potential illnesses related to the situation.

Saint Peter's University Hospital released the following statement:

"Within the last week, a very small number of patients tested positive for Legionnaires' disease. We have been working closely with local and state public health professionals and are taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our patients, visitors and staff."

Legionnaires' disease is a respiratory illness, and authorities are investigating if the hospital's water may be the source.

Legionnaires' is caused by the bacterium, Legionella pneumophila, and is spread through inhalation of contaminated water. Most cases of Legionnaires' disease occur as single isolated events.

Officials say outbreaks are relatively rare, and that there are approximately 100 cases reported each year in New Jersey.

Legionnaires' disease is not transmitted from person to person, and it usually affects middle-aged or older persons. Smokers, individuals with chronic disease and individuals with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for getting Legionnaires' disease.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include fever, chills, cough, muscle pains and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Hospital officials say they have shut down water service to several patient care areas and are taking the necessary steps to hyperchlorinate the water supply throughout the facility. They say alternate arrangements for water use (such as showering) have been made and bottled water has been supplied to those patient care areas where water service has been interrupted.

CLICK HERE for a CDC fact sheet on Legionnaires' disease.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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