ShareThis Page
Potentially deadly Legionella bacteria found at UPMC Presbyterian hospital |

Potentially deadly Legionella bacteria found at UPMC Presbyterian hospital

| Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:54 p.m
Trib Total Media
The main entrance of UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.

Infection control workers at UPMC Presbyterian hospital this week found Legionella bacteria in sinks in three patient rooms, but officials said no patients have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal pneumonia.

As a preventive measure, officials at the region’s largest hospital moved 11 patients from the affected unit to other parts of the hospital, Tami Minnier, UPMC’s chief quality officer, said on Tuesday. The patients are being monitored.

Workers identified the Legionella contamination in a pulmonary medicine unit on the hospital’s 10th floor, she said. The unit, which houses vulnerable patients with lung disease, recently was remodeled and routine water testing was done when it reopened.

“When you go and look for something really aggressively and you monitor it, and you track it, you find it,” Minnier said. “The most important thing is that when you find it, you remediate it. It does not mean that anything is wrong.”

UPMC reported the Legionella finding to the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“They’re taking appropriate steps to deal with the issue,” said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the county Health Department.

Legionella occur naturally in the environment, and health experts have said Western Pennsylvania’s combination of abundant water and old plumbing can help the bacteria to flourish.

“Regardless of the disinfection technology, because a water distribution system is complex and the water doesn’t evenly flow through the system, you may have positivity despite having disinfection,” said Janet Stout, a microbiologist and director of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, Uptown.

UPMC officials said they are intentionally aggressive about monitoring Legionella since discovering the bacteria in ice machines at Presby two months ago. The bacteria, uncovered in May, contributed to one patient’s death and sickened two others, hospital officials said.

An extensive overhaul and sterilization of ice machines throughout UPMC’s 20 hospitals resulted.

The county Health Department logs 70 to 100 cases of Legionnaires’ disease each year. Strong awareness of the Legionella risk helps drive reporting in the county, which accounted for 417 of at least 1,910 Legionnaires’ cases reported statewide between 2008 and 2013, according to state health data.

Nearly 8 percent of the local cases were fatal.

UPMC is using a heat-and-flush process to rid plumbing of the bacteria, which can multiply in warm water. It could take about a week to complete the process, Minnier said.

Patients in the affected unit have lung problems that Legionella could exacerbate. The bacteria cause a severe form of pneumonia, which people can contract by breathing mist or vapor containing the bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patients in the unit always get bottled water as a precaution, regardless of any history of Legionella in the facility, Minnier said.

Separately, workers at Family House residences in Oakland heated and flushed the pipes last month because Legionella appeared in tap water at the University Place and McKee Place facilities, said Randy Struk, president-elect of the Family House board. The nonprofit group offers short-term housing for medical patients and their families.

One resident at the University Place location came down with Legionnaires’ disease, although it isn’t clear whether the person contracted the illness at Family House, Struk said. He believes the person has been released from a hospital.

“We need to and want to address this issue,” regardless of where the patient developed Legionnaires’, Struk said.

Struk said Family House hired the Special Pathogens Laboratory to develop more permanent measures to control Legionella at its four Pittsburgh facilities.

Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media’s medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.