Legionnaires' disease is still 'widespread' in hospitals, CDC study finds

Healthcare-associated Legionnaires' disease cases are still a common occurrence, and hospitals need to monitor their water systems and prevent growth of bacteria that causes the deadly disease, according to a CDC study released Wednesday.


"Legionnaires' disease in hospitals is widespread, deadly and preventable," said Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of the CDC. "Controlling these bacteria in water systems can be challenging, but it is essential to protect patients."

Researchers examined 2,809 confirmed Legionnaires' disease cases reported from 20 states and New York City in 2015. Of those, 3 percent were definitely associated with healthcare facilities — patients had a stay of 10 days or more before symptoms started — and an additional 17 percent of cases were likely associated with a healthcare facility — patients were in a facility for less than 10 days before symptoms started.

Of the cases definitely associated with healthcare facilities, researchers found the following:

  • 80 percent were in long-term care facilities, 18 percent were in hospitals and 2 percent were in both
  • Cases were reported by 72 facilities
  • Most of affected patients (88 percent) were 60 years old or older

Healthcare-associated Legionnaires' disease cases are more deadly than other cases of the severe pneumonia — about 9 percent of all Legionnaires' disease cases are fatal, but 46 percent of healthcare-associated cases end in death.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by Legionella bacteria, which thrive in building water systems that are not adequately managed, according to the CDC's Vital Signs report. The CDC has a toolkit available on how to develop a water management program to reduce Legionella growth. Click here to access it.

"These data are especially important for healthcare facility leaders, doctors and facility managers because it reminds them to think about the risks of Legionella in their facility and take action," said Dr. Schuchat.

More articles on Legionnaires' disease:
More than 80 percent of cooling towers test positive for Legionella in CDC study
Health officials investigate Florida gym after 3 contract Legionnaires'
Legionella found in Harrison Medical Center after patient contracts Legionnaires' disease

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