How Many Cases of Legionnaires Disease Were Caused by Pittsburgh VA Hospital?

A veteran’s hospital in Pittsburgh was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease last year. Initially, 5 cases of the illness were reported; now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CBS News that the hospital may be linked to other cases and that the hospital did not handle the outbreak in a manner consistent with CDC protocol.

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by inhaling Legionella bacteria in water mist contaminated with the bacteria. Legionella grows in cooling towers, water systems, swimming pools and other water sources. Most outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease (Legionella pneumonia) are linked to hospitals, hotels and schools.

According to CBS, the CDC report stated that the VA hospital’s laboratory should have notified the Pittsburgh VA’s infection prevention team when patients tested positive for Legionella bacteria, but the hospital did not. CBS further said that Legionella cultures were not done on the urine samples of 16 patients, according to the CDC report. The CDC recommends that diagnostic tests for Legionnaires’ disease include both the culture of respiratory secretions and Legionella urine antigen testing, which can identify patients with acute infection from Legionella pneumophilia serogroup 1, the bacteria most often associated with hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease. This means that the failure to get Legionella cultures on the urine samples of the 16 patients prevented these patients and the CDC from having test results that would have pointed to the hospital as the most likely source of the cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

The Pittsburgh VA told CBS News in January that it had diagnosed 29 cases of Legionnaires’ disease at its hospital over the past two years. It acknowledged that five of those patients had caught the disease at their facility, eight had caught the disease elsewhere in the community, and that 16 others caught the disease from an “undetermined” location.

But the CDC report revealed a total of 32 cases of Legionnaires’ disease that had been diagnosed at the Pittsburgh VA between Jan. 1, 2011 and Oct. 31, 2012. It verified the Pittsburgh VA’s claims that five patients definitely caught Legionnaires’ disease while hospitalized at the Pittsburgh VA. But it also suggested that those sixteen additional patients “probably” caught the disease at the Pittsburgh VA.

But two years of lab data obtained by CBS News showed that the levels of copper-silver ions required to keep legionella bacteria at safe levels were often too low to control the bacteria, putting the hospital at risk of an outbreak.

The Pittsburgh VA hospital may also have had equipment problems. Liquitech and Enrich, Inc. told Congress at a hearing on the outbreak that their inspections of Legionnaires’ disease prevention equipment found that it was neither being properly maintained nor being monitored by adequately trained staff.

Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman recently won $3 million for a family in a Legionnaires’ disease wrongful death lawsuit. You can call 1-888-377-8900 to contact them for a free consultation.

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Category: Legionnaires' Disease
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