Legionella bacteria detected at VA Pittsburgh, system issues water restrictions

Routine water testing at Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Health System identified Legionella bacteria in sinks at its University Drive campus. In an effort to prevent infections, the VA has issued water restrictions at the facility.

Legionella can cause Legionnaires' disease, a more virulent form of pneumonia. About one in 10 people who get Legionnaires' disease will die, according to the CDC; but as of Jan. 28, there have been no cases of hospital-acquired Legionnaires' disease reported at VA Pittsburgh.

From Jan. 6 to Jan. 27, nine sinks across the University Drive campus tested positive for Legionella. Additionally, two separate supply lines tested positive for the bacteria. VA Pittsburgh implemented water restrictions on Jan. 28, and the restrictions are scheduled to last 14 days. During this time period, employees and patients in many parts of the campus are not to use the facility's water supply for ice, drinking water, hand-washing or showering. Administration has provided safe hand-washing stations, bagged ice and bottled water in designated locations.

"The health and safety of our veterans, employees and visitors is our top priority," said the health system in a release. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are extending water restrictions for at least the next 14 days as we complete remediation, and await subsequent water test results to ensure eradication of the bacteria was successful."

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This is not the first time VA Pittsburgh has dealt with Legionella: From 2011 to 2012, 22 veterans across the VA Pittsburgh Health System were infected with Legionnaires' disease, and six of them died.

A CDC investigation determined the copper-silver ionization system at the facility had failed to adequately protect the water supply from Legionella. CDC officials then persuaded the VA to switch to a chlorine disinfection system, which the agency preferred. However, a separate internal investigation 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.

In December 2016, the CDC launched its own internal probe into the agency's handling of the outbreak investigation after emails surfaced revealing potential bias on the part of agency investigators.

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