High Levels of Legionella Bacteria Detected in Penn. Hospital’s Water Tanks

Allegheny General Hospital

Legionella bacteria have contaminated the plumbing system of Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Laboratory tests revealed dangerous levels of legionella bacteria in Allegheny General Hospital’s water supply system. The bacteria can cause a fatal condition called the Legionnaires’ disease, which kills about 10 percent of affected patients.

But the Allegheny Health Network stated that so far no infections were reported at the health facility. Nevertheless, inpatients and staffers were given bottled water to prevent them from falling ill. The water tanks are now being disinfected and the activity at the hospital should be back to normal in 7 days.

The Legionnaires’ disease has symptoms very similar to pneumonia and the bacteria enter the human respiratory system when people breathe contaminated vapors in showers, water fountains, air conditioning systems, and hot tubs.

In Pennsylvania, there was an increase of 300% in the cases of Legionnaires’ disease especially in the western parts of the state in recent years. This is why the CDC has put hospitals on alert and constant monitoring.

The condition was named after the American Legion conference, the place where more than two dozen people died in 1976 after contracting the then-mysterious disease. Most people affected by the disease require hospitalization and about 10 percent are killed.

Nationwide, the number of cases jumped from 1,127 to 5,166 over just 14 years. CDC researchers believe that the situation may be tied to the growing numbers of seniors and improper sanitation of plumbing and air cooling systems. Additionally, the rapid rise may be also tied to physicians’ better ability of diagnosing and reporting the disease when they see it.

The largest Legionnaires’ outbreak was reported in New York City in 2015 when more than 100 people fell ill and 16 died. The condition affects mostly people in their 50s or older and people that have underlying medical conditions or risk factors such as smoking and compromised immune systems.

Legionnaires’ patients may experience headaches, coughing and breathing problems. Others may also have muscle fatigue and pain.

Experts say that the number of infections can be significantly reduced through better water management strategies. Of the 27 outbreaks reported by the CDC since 2000, more than 50 percent were caused by mishaps such as failing to replace a filter in a air conditioning system. Only one-third of outbreaks were caused by equipment malfunctions.

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