Fourth person dies at hospital

Legionnaires' victim got sick before going to Harford Memorial

She lived at nursing home

July 16, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A fourth person died yesterday of Legionnaires' disease at Harford Memorial Hospital where a hot water tank is believed to have been the source of a recent outbreak.

Noting state confidentiality laws, officials declined to identify the patient. But a spokeswoman for a Havre de Grace nursing home last week confirmed that the patient was a woman in her 80s who became ill at the nursing home and was sent to the hospital.

While giving no other details, Bob Netherland, a spokesman for Upper Chesapeake Health Systems Inc., which runs the Havre de Grace hospital, said the patient was admitted there on June 28 with pneumonia and Legionnaires' disease symptoms.

"We think that this person acquired it out in the environment," Netherland said. "This patient's pattern did not fit the pattern of our other patients."

The four other people who developed Legionnaires' disease were patients at the hospital who were discharged and returned after becoming ill. One of those patients died on June 28, another on July 6 and the third on July 9. The one surviving patient, who was diagnosed on June 8, was treated with antibiotics and discharged soon after.

Because the woman who died yesterday came into the hospital exhibiting Legionnaires' disease symptoms without having been there before, state health officials also have tested the water at the Citizens Care Center, the 200-bed nursing home where she had been living. Officials said those test results are expected next week.

Meanwhile, Harford Memorial officials hyperchlorinated that facility's hot water system on Wednesday to assure that no traces of Legionella remained. After the first four cases were discovered, the hospital heat-treated and flushed the system on July 3 to kill any bacteria.

Legionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia that can cause a very mild respiratory illness or lead to death. Symptoms include a dry cough, high fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, fatigue, headache and abdominal pain. The disease is spread by water droplets in the air, and the bacteria can develop in air conditioners, whirlpools, spas and showers.

Hospital officials said 80 patients who were at risk for Legionnaires' disease have been tested since the outbreak and no new cases have been discovered. A hot line set up by the hospital has received almost 700 calls, and nurses have contacted about 300 of the 400 patients discharged from the hospital since May 1.

Higher-than-usual levels of Legionella bacteria caused an evacuation Wednesday of a building at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Rickover Hall, an engineering building, will remain closed until Monday because officials discovered the bacteria in the air conditioning cooling tower.

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