In early June, the CDC published a report that showed 80% of cases of Legionnaires’ disease were associated with a long term care center. 18% were acquired from hospitals. The CDC has always collected data from states on legionella infections, but has never required the source of the infection to be included. For the report, the CDC asked 21 jurisdictions to identify the likely source.
According to the CDC, Legionnaires’ disease develops from legionella bacteria and causes a pneumonia-like infection that causes severe respiratory issues and can be fatal. One in 10 people will die from acquiring Legionnaires’ disease under normal circumstances, but if the disease is contracted from a health care facility, the odds of death jump to one in 4. The thought is that Legionnaires’ disease in health care environments is more severe and that hospitalized patients, being ill or in some form of bad health, have less positive outcomes when facing the infection.
Becoming infected by legionella is dependent on several factors. If younger, healthy adults come in contact with the bacteria, the disease will likely not develop. However, risk factors for the bacteria developing into Legionnaires’ disease include being over the age of 50, being immunocompromised or otherwise unhealthy, and having been a smoker or a current smoker. Legionella bacteria is spread through contaminated water and very rarely can be self-induced by aspirating any sort of water.
The Acting Director of the CDC, Anne Schuchat, M.D., stresses the importance of monitoring the water supply in hospitals, long term care facilities, and other health care centers. According to the CDC report, ‘Legionella growth occurs in building water systems that are not managed adequately and where disinfectant levels are low, water is stagnant, or water temperatures are ideal for growth of bacteria.’
The disease is so prevalent that the CDC has developed a toolkit for facility owners and managers with the various measures necessary to ensure clean water in health care facilities. Dr. Schuchat says, “Legionnaires’ disease in hospitals is widespread, deadly, and preventable. Controlling these bacteria in water systems can be challenging, but it is essential to protect patients.”