DES MOINES (AP) -- Nine cases of Legionnaires' disease have been confirmed in Iowa this year, including a woman who died of the disease this month in Iowa City.
Sandra Shank, 57, died from the respiratory sickness Sept. 3 at University Hospitals, according to her death certificate filed with the Johnson County recorder's office.
Hospital officials said they've had five confirmed cases of the disease since November 2004, though they are not sure where the diseases were contracted.
The bacteria that causes the sickness is found in soil and grows in water and other places such as air conditioning ducts. Hospital officials would not comment on Shanks' death but said they have taken precautions to ensure patients are not contracting the disease at the hospital.
Hospital officials said they are monitoring the water supply, treating it through hyperchlorination and installing special filters to prevent infection. The hospital has also spent $635,000 since 2004 to rid its system of the bacteria that causes the disease, officials said.
"We're convinced that were doing the best we can do … to make this a safe environment," said Dr. Chuck Helms, a medical director at the hospital and an infectious disease specialist.
According to Shanks' death certificate, she died of acute respiratory distress as a result of Legionnaires' disease. It also indicated Shanks suffered from a suppressed immune system because of chemotherapy and cancer. Helms would not say whether Shanks was already in the hospital when she contracted Legionnaires'.
State health officials declined to comment on Shanks' case, citing state and federal privacy laws.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, a state epidemiologist, said cases of Legionnaires' disease are often sporadic and are seldom related. The disease most often affects people with existing pulmonary problems.
"People who get this are not in great shape to begin with and then get this on top of it," Quinlisk said.
Symptoms of Legionnaires' include headaches, loss of appetite, aches and pains, a fever and a cough and respiratory problems. It is treated with antibiotics. Symptoms can begin between two to 10 days after contracting the bacteria.
Quinlisk said the nine cases reported in Iowa this year have occurred in five eastern Iowa counties. None are related, Quinlisk said.
There were eight cases of Legionnaires' in each of the previous two years; 20 in 2003; and 22 cases in 2002, state health records show.
It was not immediately clear when the last Legionnaires' death in Iowa occurred.