CDC conducting internal investigation into handling of VA Pittsburgh's Legionnaires' outbreak

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The CDC has launched an internal probe into the conduct of its own staff during the investigation of a 2012 outbreak of Legionnaires' at Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The investigation was initiated in response to a letter from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) calling for such an inquiry. Sen. Casey sent his letter after the Post-Gazette published a two-part series on the 2012 outbreak investigation. During said investigation Victor Yu, MD, and Janet Stout, PhD, suggested the Legionella bacteria at play in the outbreak may have developed a resistance to the copper-silver ionization system that was used at the health system for decades. However, CDC emails obtained by the Post-Gazette reportedly reveal a bias against the two researchers and the notion of resistance.

Information relayed by the Post-Gazette suggests CDC officials may have deliberately steered the investigation against the copper-silver system — a technology experts commonly disagree on. For the agency's 2013 report on the outbreak, CDC investigators found the staff members in charge of maintaining the copper-silver system were not at fault. The CDC then reportedly convinced the VA to switch to a chlorine disinfection system, which the agency favored.

A separate 2013 report conducted by the VA's Office of the Inspector General found the VA's employees to be at fault for not properly maintaining the copper-silver disinfectant system.

"CDC is conducting an internal investigation into the agency's work on the Legionella outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA Health Center and welcomes any other inquiries from Congress or other interested parties," the agency said in a statement, according to the Post-Gazette. "CDC takes very seriously questions about its objectivity and is committed to continuous improvement of its professional conduct and scientific integrity."

From 2011 to 2012, 22 veterans across the Pittsburgh VA Health System were infected with Legionnaires'. The outbreak resulted in six deaths.

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