At Launceston Hospital, a routine legionella test showed a scary discovery. In February, the hospital found the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease. Located in Cornwall, Launceston Hospital encompasses a total of 20 beds. The discovery of these bacteria forced the closure of the community hospital while repairs were made. 

The Closure

Originally, the legionella bacteria were found within two locations. After a routine legionella water test, the bacteria were discovered and the hospital was forced to shut down for four weeks. To rid the hospital of any traces of the bacteria, the heating and water system had to be completely refurbished. When Launceston was closed, a total of ten patients were residing at the facility. Six of these patients had to be transferred to the Liskeard Hospital while two other patients went to different care facilities. The last two patients had recovered sufficiently to be sent home.

In addition to these patients, Launceston Hospital normally operates a unit for minor injuries. Patients who normally visited the hospital for physiotherapy and x-rays were forced to go to hospitals in Stratton, Liskeard and Bodmin.

Growth of the Bacteria

Legionella bacteria can easily contaminate water systems. It likes to grow in cooler environments within evaporative condensers and cooling towers. Once it is present, it can completely contaminate the drinking supply of a building. Since the bacteria cannot grow in hot environments, it can be destroyed through the use of heat or through the instalment of new water systems.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia that can be fatal for individuals with decreased immune systems. It typically thrives in areas with stagnant water. Once it infects someone, it invades the lungs and macrophages and begins to reproduce. Originally, the disease was discovered in 1976. As scientists became better at diagnosing the infection, rates of the disease’s occurrence grew around the world. Typically, 8,000 to 18,000 cases occur annually in just the United States.

In the European Union, 600 outbreaks between 1995 and 2005 ended up causing a total of 32,000 cases. From the current data, scientists estimate that Legionnaires’ disease is still undiagnosed. The disease takes its name from its discovery in 1976. At a Legionnaires’ convention in Pennsylvania, 221 attendees became ill and 34 individuals died. After researching the illness, scientists identified the bacteria and named it. Recent studies indicate that the bacteria thrive in hot water systems, spas and cooling towers. It can be found in ice machines and in the misting devices used on fruit at grocery stores.

Hospital Reopens

For the Launceston Hospital, there were no deaths associated with finding the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease. To prevent its reoccurrence, the boil was replaced. Peninsula Community Health also disinfected the water system and updated any older parts. After this was done, flooring was installed in certain areas of the hospital in addition to new sinks and water taps. Now that the changes have been made, the hospital is prepared to reopen and begin serving patients in the area.

Author: +Duncan Hollis