Officials of the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) disclosed this January that routine water testing in the Pittsburgh Healthcare campus revealed the presence of Legionella bacteria.
This discovery has led VA officials to impose water restrictions in different areas of the hospital although there has been no reported case of Legionnaires’ disease.
Hospital officials said that samples from five sinks in a vacant unit in the hospital yielded positive results last January 6. On January 15, two samples from nearby sinks yielded the same results. On January 25, two more sinks located in an outpatient clinic and another sample from a supply line tested positive. On January 24, two samples from another supply line also tested positive.
Upon discovery of these positive results, hospital officials informed both patients and employees and implemented water restrictions in different portions of the hospital. Included in these restrictions are the hospital’s water supply for ice, drinking, bathing, and hand washing. Instead, the hospital has made available portable hand washing stations. Areas affected by the restrictions have also been supplied with bottled water and bagged ice.
Officials say that the restrictions will be put in place for at least 14 days while the necessary remediation work is being conducted and while waiting for the results of additional tests to ensure the total eradication of the bacteria in affected areas in the hospital.
Prior to the discovery of Legionella in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare facilities, the hospital figured in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak with five deaths linked to the hospital. That last outbreak was between February 2011 and November 2012.
This latest discovery proves the importance of conducting a regular test for Legionella in water, especially in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Although young and fit people can recover from Legionnaires’ disease after prompt diagnosis and treatment, certain groups of people can die from the disease. These groups include people in poor health, heavy smokers, drinkers, and the elderly.
Water supplies can become contaminated with the bacteria when stagnant water is collected in unused plumbing fixtures like sinks, showers, and ice machines. Contamination may also occur in supply lines that are abandoned following a renovation. These conditions, along with the right temperature range, can create the right conditions for an increase in the bacterial populations as well as the formation of bio-slime.
If a water supply is suspected of being contaminated with the bacteria, the first step that needs to be done is to inform local health officials. Residents should also be protected from possible infection by removing risks for inhalation and drinking of contaminated water. The use of tap water from affected water supplies should also be restricted. Afterwards, tests should also be conducted before disinfection.