Hospitals follow strict standard operating procedures for cleaning and disinfecting every nook and cranny in their property, primarily because the nature of work and activity in them can make the building a hotspot for disease and bacteria. The risk is especially high when it comes to their water systems, making it highly important to establish a Legionella testing schedule and follow other disease prevention methods.

Hospital water systems: The hard reality

Medical experts have long warned that hospitals are, by far, the most at risk for Legionella outbreaks and other waterborne diseases compared to any other building. The hospital environment is a breeding ground for growing and culturing Legionella. Without the establishment of aggressive, intelligent risk management processes in place, the threat of Legionella disease poses a huge risk to the health of personnel and patients, as well as a financial burden to the institution.

There are various ways in which infection is transmitted through a water system. Drinking contaminated water is the usual suspect, but transmission is also common in other ways that may not be too obvious at first. Rinsing of medical equipment, contamination of medicine vials, exposure to Legionella-infested vapours and water droplets while taking a shower or bathing, or direct contact with contaminated medical equipment are just some of the daily hospital routines or activities wherein health care providers or their patients can be exposed to waterborne pathogens.

Common disease-carrying bacteria found in hospital water systems

Some of the varieties of microorganisms commonly found in hospital water systems include Legionalla pneumophila, Stenotrophomanas maltiphilia, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and different kinds of fungi and amoebae.

How do they manage to survive even under the strictest cleaning and disinfecting regimen of medical institutions? Aside from being remarkably tough and sturdy in nature, microorganisms seem to have a huge instinct for survival and reproduction. For instance, they choose to attach themselves and multiply along the slime (also called biofilm) that lines pipes and fixtures in a structure.

Another particularly crafty survival technique these potentially deadly microorganisms follow is to live inside other microbes. The body of their host provides the perfect protection against possible threats to their existence. Legionella bacteria living inside amoeba, for instance, can still come out very much alive even after contact with chemicals and disinfectants or after being exposed to the harshest environmental conditions.

Given these cold, hard facts, health institutions that are most vigilant against the prevention of diseases know how critical it is to observe the right maintenance and inspection regimen for hospital water systems. In a field where practitioners know well how prevention is better than cure, the use of water quality testing kits and other risk management measures are essential investments for the health and wellbeing of medical workers and their patients.

+Duncan Hollis