Nine people in Milwaukee County have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in November; five of these nine have been hospitalized for their illnesses. According to the Milwaukee Health Department, eight individuals became ill in Milwaukee and the ninth was in another part of Milwaukee County. Public health officials are investigating, but the source of the outbreak remains unclear.
According to Paul Biedrzycki, Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health for the Milwaukee Health Department, these nine new cases bring Milwaukee County’s count of Legionnaires’ disease cases up to 74 since June 1 of this year. 54 of the 74 summer cases occurred in the city of Milwaukee; this is a tremendous difference from Milwaukee’s typical 12 to 14 cases per year.
The outbreak over the summer is thought to have been linked to cooling towers on buildings. Milwaukee also experienced an eight-case outbreak three years ago; that outbreak was linked to a waterfall inside Cudahy Hospital.
Biedrzycki said “[t]his certainly has been a significant year for Legionnaires’ disease in the city and raises questions as to the scope and nature of widespread exposure to the public.” He also recognized that the nine cases from this month may be attributed to enhanced awareness and testing by health care providers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of CDC-confirmed cases in the U.S. annually jumped 217% from 1,110 cases in 2000 to 3,522 cases in 2009. However, this is most likely an underestimate.