An investigation is underway at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center this week. Health and safety officials obtained information that two patients had fallen victim to Legionnaire's disease due to exposure that may have occurred at Mercy. Legionnaire's disease is the result of exposure to Legionella bacteria which only occurs when a building's water system is kept in substandard conditions.
Legionnaire's disease is entirely preventable. The conditions that lead to the growth of Legionella bacteria are well-known. When a water system is maintained properly, the bacteria won't grow. However, facilities that fail to maintain proper water safety standards can expose visitors to significant danger. An illness that at first feels like the flu can turn fatal if not treated quickly.
Not every patient or visitor who came into contact with Legionella bacteria will develop Legionnaire's disease. The bacteria is more likely to sicken people who have weakened immune systems. Unfortunately, hospitals are a prime location for these people, so Legionella bacteria is highly dangerous in such a location.
Mercy Hospital is reviewing its water system and practices now. Prior outbreaks have been linked to maintenance defects, improper cleaning and disinfection practices, and water allowed to stagnate in fixtures that don't get consistent use. It is not yet known what factors contributed to this latest outbreak of Legionnaire's disease, but several safety measures have already been enacted to prevent a reoccurrence. These include replacing old or broken water fixtures, adding filters in some locations, and flushing the affected water system.
These measures may be effective in eliminating the current growth of Legionella bacteria, but Mercy Hospital must change its practices to ensure that there are not outbreaks in the future.