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Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Finds Three Legionella-Contaminated Water Fixtures

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System found three water fixtures to be contaminated with the Legionella bacteria, shortly after a patient was diagnosed with Legionella pneumonia.

A patient’s shower, a staff sink and a public sink tested positive for the bacteria on Sept. 29 and October 1 at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System’s University Drive campus following a test by a water safety team.

The three locations tested positive for Blue-white Legionella, a species which typically does not cause infection in humans, according to a VA press release.

Legionella thrives in water, particularly warm water, and is responsible for the hospitalization of between 8,000-18,000 individuals per year in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The affected veteran was diagnosed on Sept. 14, and has since recovered, the release said. VA Pittsburgh officials do not believe the veteran used the contaminated shower.

Five other patients have been diagnosed with Legionella pneumonia at VA Pittsburgh this year, but none with the Blue-white variety.

This comes after an outbreak of Legionella outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital between 2011 and 2012 that killed six patients and sickened more than 20 more. This was caused by the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System failing to regularly flush its water systems, a report by the VA Inspector General said.

The VA will perform a hyper-chlorination of the infected water system.

“Water is not sterile and even with a robust chlorination system we expect to find positives for Legionella,” said VA Pittsburgh Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Brooke Decker, in a written release. “This demonstrates that our water monitoring system is working—we have closed these fixtures until they can be cleaned and retested, and we are collecting water samples from adjacent locations to confirm it is related only to these fixtures.”

Pittsburgh VA Director Terry Wolf was fired following an investigation into the 2011-12 incident.

The CDC said then that the outbreak began in February 2011 but was not acknowledged publicly until November 2012.