Pitt Study at Odds with CDC on Legionnaire's

By Acton, Robin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 23, 2007 | Go to article overview

Pitt Study at Odds with CDC on Legionnaire's


Acton, Robin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Infectious disease experts say new evidence shows thousands of lives could be saved every year by checking all of the nation's hospital water systems for the Legionnaire's disease bacteria.

Results of a study released Wednesday by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found routine monitoring of institutional water systems can help predict the risk of hospital- acquired cases of Legionella pneumonia.

The deadly bacterial pneumonia is named for a 1976 outbreak that killed 34 people and sickened 221 others who attended the 58th Pennsylvania American Legion Convention in Philadelphia. Researchers estimate it has killed more than 39,000 people and sickened untold thousands of others since 1982, when it was first linked to common tap water.

"This is an important scientific development. I think it will save lots of lives," said Dr. Victor Yu, a professor of medicine at Pitt and senior author of the two-year study conducted at 20 hospitals in 14 states.

The study, reported in the Journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, calls for reconsideration of the current national infection-control policy to include routine testing of hospital water systems to prevent outbreaks. It is at odds with standards maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends testing only after cases of Legionnaire's occur.

"I think that's been shot down with this study," Yu said, referring to the CDC approach.

Dr. Matt Moore, a Legionnaire's specialist with the CDC, did not return a call seeking comment.

Yu said that only those surveyed hospitals with high levels of Legionella bacteria in their water systems were found to have had patients who contracted Legionnaire's disease. He said it is important to identify risk because the condition often goes undetected until it is too late.

Dr. Janet Stout, a study author and research assistant professor in Pitt's department of civil and environmental engineering, said the results provided "much-needed evidence" to require routine testing of water systems of health care facilities .

"We think this long-overdue approach should be adopted by infection control and infectious disease practitioners nationwide," said Stout, who has maintained for years that the CDC is wrong. "How much longer do we have to wait and how many more lives will be lost?"

People contract Legionnaire's through aspiration, when bacteria are inhaled into the lungs while drinking water or inhaling mist from a contaminated source, such as a shower or hot tub. …

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