An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Wisconsin has been linked to a decorative hospital water fountain, according to a new study published on January 10, 2012 in the online journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology .
In 2010, within a four-week period, eight people contracted the disease after passing directly through the lobby – the location of the water fountain- at the Aurora St. Luke South Shore Hospital in Cudahy, Wisconsin. None of them had been admitted at the time of exposure – three were outpatients, three were picking up medication at the hospital pharmacy, one was a delivery man, and one man was waiting to pick up his wife. All eight possessed preexisting medical conditions or other factors that increased their risks of contracting Legionnaire’s disease.
The disease spread through inhalation contact with the contaminated water. According to Thomas Haupt, a respiratory disease epidemiologist for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health and the lead author of the study, a sampling of a 3-inch by 4-inch piece of foam from the fountain was found to have more than 1 million bacteria.
When the fountain was first suspected as a potential source of the outbreak, the water wall was shut down and turned into a planter. Several other Wisconsin hospitals also shut down or removed their decorative water walls. All eight patients have since recovered, and no additional cases were reported after the fountain was closed.