Outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease Traced to Hospital Fountain

WEDNESDAY Jan. 11, 2012 -- A decorative fountain in a hospital lobby was the cause of a 2010 Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Wisconsin, a new study says.

Legionnaires' disease is a severe and potentially deadly form of pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella, which can be inhaled from contaminated water sources.

State and local health officials launched an investigation after eight people in southeast Wisconsin developed Legionnaires' disease. After interviewing the patients, investigators identified one hospital as the origin of the outbreak.

Environmental testing within the hospital found notable amounts of Legionella in samples collected from the "water wall" decorative fountain in the hospital's main lobby. All eight patients had spent time in the lobby, the study said.

The fountain was shut down when it was first suspected as a source of the outbreak and hospital officials alerted staff and about 4,000 potentially exposed patients and visitors. All eight patients recovered and no further cases of Legionnaires' disease occurred after the fountain was shut down.

Before the outbreak, the fountain had undergone routine cleaning and maintenance, the researchers said.

"Since our investigation, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health has developed interim guidelines advising health-care facilities with decorative fountains to establish strict maintenance procedures and conduct periodic bacteriologic monitoring for Legionella," study lead author Thomas Haupt, an epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, said in a journal news release.

"The guidelines stress that until additional data are available that demonstrate effective maintenance procedures for eliminating the risk of Legionella transmission from indoor decorative water fountains in health-care settings, water fountains of any type should be considered at risk of becoming contaminated with Legionella bacteria," he added.

The study appears in the February issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Legionnaires' disease.

Posted: January 2012


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