Legionnaires' hiding in hospital, nursing home plumbing systems: CDC

June 6, 2017 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Deadly Legionnaires' disease is lurking in the water systems of hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, putting the most vulnerable patients at risk, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.

About 10 percent of people who get Legionnaires' disease die from it, but in health care facilities the death rate is higher—25 percent of those patients die if they get the disease, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Legionnaires' disease in health care facilities is widespread, deadly and preventable," CDC Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said during a noon press briefing Tuesday.

Despite the CDC's efforts to get health care facilities to develop effective management programs, more is needed to protect patients from this deadly bacteria, she said.

Legionnaires' disease is a serious lung infection that causes pneumonia. People can get it by breathing in small droplets of water containing the Legionella bacteria.

The bacteria thrives in building that are not adequately managed and where disinfectant levels are low, water is stagnant, or water temperatures are warm, Schuchat said.

Most healthy people do not get Legionnaires' disease after exposure to the bacteria, she said. People most at risk are those aged 50 or older or those who have other risk factors, such as being a current or former smoker, having a chronic disease or having a weakened immune system, Schuchat said.

"People can inhale the bacteria from small water droplets from showers, water therapy spas, baths, cooling towers, decorative fountains and medical equipment, like respiratory therapy equipment," she said.

Legionnaires' disease in health care facilities is costly, Schuchat added. In one year alone, insurance companies paid out an estimated $434 million for claims arising from Legionnaires' disease infection, and total health care costs per patient averaged about $38,000, she said.

The problem is probably bigger than the report's figures indicate. "It's just the tip of the iceberg," Schuchat noted. Most cases of Legionnaires' disease in health care facilities go unreported because patients who develop pneumonia aren't routinely tested for Legionnaires', she explained.

For the report, CDC researchers analyzed 2015 data from 21 areas around the country and found that 76 percent of reported cases of Legionnaires' disease were linked to health care facilities.

During 2015, approximately 6,000 cases of Legionnaires' disease were reported to CDC, but only about half included where the infection was acquired.

The findings in this new report are based on data from 20 states and New York City, where how the infection was acquired was recorded.

According to the report, among cases definitely associated with care facilities:

  • 80 percent were tied to long-term care facilities, 18 percent to hospitals and 2 percent to both,
  • 72 unique facilities reported cases with the number of cases ranging from one to six in each facility,
  • 88 percent of the cases were in people aged 60 or older.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) alerted that they are now expected to develop and adhere to policies and procedures to reduce the risk of Legionella and other waterborne germs, Schuchat said.

These procedures will be part of future inspections conducted by the CMS, she said.

Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, "This is all about improper maintenance, improper sanitation and improper sterilization, and a vastly underreported problem."

Doctors should be on the lookout for Legionnaires' disease in patients who develop pneumonia, he said.

Siegel added that the building itself, including its water system, is part of the biosphere of the facility and needs to be as sterile as possible to prevent Legionnaires' .

Explore further: Death toll in New York Legionnaires' outbreak hits eight

More information: Marc Siegel, M.D., professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; June 6, 2017, media briefing with: Anne Schuchat, M.D., acting director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; June 6, 2017, report Vital Signs: Health Care-Associated Legionnaires' Disease Surveillance Data from 20 States and a Large Metropolitan Area—United States, 2015

For more on Legionnaires' disease, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related Stories

Death toll in New York Legionnaires' outbreak hits eight

August 6, 2015
The death toll in New York's outbreak of Legionnaires' disease has risen to eight, out of a total of 97 cases of infection, city authorities said Wednesday.

Legionnaires' disease has always been around, infectious disease expert says

August 6, 2015
Even as New York faces the largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the city's history, John A. Sellick, Jr., DO, University at Buffalo associate professor of medicine, does not believe there is an epidemic.

Researchers move forward on study on Flint water, health

July 8, 2016
A group led by Wayne State University researchers is moving forward on efforts to evaluate possible links between changes in the water system in Flint, Michigan, and public health.

Glaxo plant with Legionnaires' bacteria is quiet for second day

August 12, 2015
All was quiet Wednesday at a GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical plant that was shut down after the drug maker discovered the bacteria that cause potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease in a cooling tower at the site.

NYC Legionnaires' outbreak up to 10 dead, 100 diagnosed

August 6, 2015
New York City officials say 10 people have died in the outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease centered in the South Bronx, and a total of 100 cases have been diagnosed.

Four people dead from Legionnaires' disease in New York

August 3, 2015
Four people have died from Legionnaires' disease in New York since mid-July and another 55 are currently hospitalized, city health officials said Monday.

Recommended for you

Poor sleep could lead to heavier drinking in young adults, study finds

December 8, 2017
A shortened night of sleep may increase young adults' risk of heavier drinking, according to a new Yale study that assessed reciprocal variations in sleep and drinking over time in young adults.

Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn't work

December 8, 2017
Potato chips, frozen pizza, a fast food hamburger-these foods are popular in the American diet and saturated with sodium. Though eating too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, 90 percent of Americans eat ...

Observation care may save more than thought

December 8, 2017
In the world of health care spending policy, it usually works that as Medicare goes so goes private insurance on matters of managing the cost and quality of care.

Screen time before bed linked with less sleep, higher BMIs in kids

December 7, 2017
It may be tempting to let your kids stay up late playing games on their smartphones, but using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to Penn State College of Medicine ...

Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth, says research

December 7, 2017
For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors—yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

Teen girls 'bombarded and confused' by sexting requests: study

December 7, 2017
Adolescent women feel intense pressure to send sexual images to men, but they lack the tools to cope with their concerns and the potential consequences, according to new Northwestern University research published Wednesday, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.