Hospital Water Systems Pose Legionnaires’ Disease Risk

Hospitals in Connecticut and around the country are concerned after a report has shown Legionnaires’ disease present in the water supplies of a number of healthcare facilities. The disease is a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. It is preventable but can be deadly.

The report was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers examined 20 states and New York City. Of those, 16 had some hospital-acquired cases of Legionnaires’ disease. The infection is most frequently contracted through inhalation of small droplets of water contaminated with the bacteria. In health care facilities, these droplets can originate from showers, water therapy tubs, cooling towers and even medical devices. While the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to general pneumonia and include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, headaches and muscle aches, the disease is much deadlier.

Most people exposed to the bacteria never develop the disease. However, for those that do become sick, 10 percent die. For hospital patients, the rate increases to 25 percent. Legionnaires’ disease is a rare form of pneumonia, with only 6,000 cases reported annually. However, the incidence of the disease rose 4.5 times between 2000 and 2015. Scientists have raised aging hospital water systems as a major source of concern about the spread of Legionnaires’ disease.

Whether inside or outside the hospital, 80 percent of cases of the disease could likely be prevented with improved management of water systems. Even more, many deaths could likely be prevented if ill people were correctly diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease rather than standard pneumonia. Two tests are available to detect this form of pneumonia and begin appropriate treatment. Patients who contracted Legionnaires’ disease in a hospital setting and who were forced to incur additional treatment as a result may want to meet with an attorney to see if the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit grounded on hospital negligence would be advisable.