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Deadly Legionella bacteria found on medical equipment at University of Washington Medical Center

Legionnaire''s disease

(NaturalNews) The potentially deadly Legionella bacteria has been discovered contaminating various medical devices at the University of Washington (UW) Medical Center. The hospital announced that it was responding by cleaning the devices and treating its water system with chlorine.

Legionella bacteria is responsible for a form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire's disease. While most people who become infected with the bacteria develop no symptoms or only mild, flu-like symptoms, it can also progress to dangerous or even lethal pneumonia. By some estimates, as many as 1 in 10 people who develop the full-blown disease die. People with compromised immune systems or chronic lung disease are at greatest risk.

The Legionella bacteria occur naturally in low concentrations in fresh water, but can multiply dangerously in hot water. They can also inhabit man-made water features such as faucets, showers, hot tubs, fountains and water cooling towers. Legionnaire's disease is contracted by people who breathe in droplets from contaminated water sources; it cannot pass from person to person.

It can be treated with antibiotics.

Patients warned to be watchful

The UW Medical Center tested its facility for Legionella after two cases of Legionnaire's disease were reported at the hospital. Two further cases were eventually detected, but none have been conclusively linked to the contaminated devices.

The hospital found Legionella contamination in an ice machine, a sink and three medical devices that are used to control patients' body temperature during heart surgery. All the devices have been removed from service. The hospital announced that the manufacturer of the medical devices will come and internally clean all 12 of the devices at the hospital.

The hospital also treated the water system for the building where the bacteria were detected with a high dose of chlorine, followed the next day by a flush to remove the chlorine residue. Campus engineers said the building's water system was not connected to the plumbing of any other buildings.

Finally, the medical center made phone calls to all high-risk patients who were hospitalized in the affected area between August 24 and September 13, to warn them of the symptoms of Legionnaire's disease.

Legionnaire's on the rise

Legionnaire's disease is one of the most common forms of hospital-acquired pneumonia, and hospitals are one of the main settings in which outbreaks tend to occur. According to a study published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six of 15 Legionella-related disease outbreaks in 2011-2012 occurred in healthcare facilities: three in hospitals, and three in long-term care facilities.

The study noted that of 18 water-related bacterial disease outbreaks in the time period studied, nearly all came from Legionella. It was one of two CDC studies published in the same week highlighting the rising prevalence of Legionnaire's disease. The other study found that of 32 drinking-water related disease outbreaks between 2011 and 2012, two-thirds were caused by Legionella bacteria. Between 2007 and 2008, Legionella was responsible for only one-third.

The researchers speculated that poorly maintained water systems are responsible for the growing problem.

"The key to preventing these outbreaks is maintenance of building plumbing systems," they wrote.

Last year saw a high-profile outbreak of Legionnaire's disease that killed 12 people in the Bronx, New York City. The city responded by requiring the testing of all cooling towers for Legionella bacteria.

City Controller Scott Stringer said the city had not responded quickly enough to the outbreak and called for faster action in the future.

"We were slow to react," he said. "We're going to have to be more nimble."

The same month, a GlaxoSmithKline drug factory in North Carolina was forced to shut down for a week after discovering Legionella bacteria in one of its own cooling towers.




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