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Dear Honorable Senators and Representatives and Veteran Service Organization partners,
Water restrictions enacted in late January to remediate Legionella bacteria in Building 1 at the University Drive location have been extended to allow additional time to sanitize water supply lines that were repaired during the remediation process and to complete repeat water sample testing.
Health care teams diagnosed one patient with Legionella pneumonia last week. The patient was admitted, treated with antibiotics, released and has fully recovered.
Test results from a sputum sample traced the patient’s illness to a type of Legionella bacteria that is not identifiable through a urinary antigen test alone. VAPHS attempts to conduct both types of tests on patients with suspected pneumonia or pneumonia, and typically conducts these tests on more than 500 patients each year.
At this time, evidence suggests the patient contracted Legionella pneumonia in the community. The type of Legionella bacteria that caused the illness has not been detected at the University Drive location in nearly two years despite the sampling of almost 4,000 fixtures during that time, and is not the type that caused the current water restrictions in Building 1.
VAPHS reported the case of Legionella pneumonia to the Allegheny County Health Department, in accordance with CDC protocols.
In accordance with VA directives and hospital protocols, additional water samples were collected in the areas of Building 29 where the diagnosed patient visited as an outpatient during the onset of illness. The samples are undergoing testing for Legionella bacteria. To date, no samples have returned positive for the type of Legionella bacteria that caused the illness. Third-party genetic testing of the patient’s sputum sample is underway, with results expected in several weeks.
Since water restrictions have been in place, facilities technicians completed previously planned infrastructure improvements, including repairs of a major water supply line. Corrosion and leaks affecting some feeder pipes were identified and fixed. Water systems are currently being sanitized.
When sanitization is complete, additional water samples will be collected and tested to ensure Legionella bacteria has been remediated. It is not known how long this process will take, or how long the current water restrictions will continue.
The extended restrictions were initially put into place in some areas of Building 1 on Jan. 27, when routine testing revealed an increase in samples returning positive for Legionella bacteria in January 2017. Those positives were found on Jan. 6 in samples taken from five sinks in a vacant administrative unit under renovation, and on Jan. 15 from samples taken from two adjacent sinks; on Jan. 25 in samples taken from two sinks in an outpatient clinic and one from a supply line; and on Jan. 27 in two samples taken from another supply line.
The restrictions include no use of the facility’s water supply for ice, drinking, hand-washing, showering or bathing. We continue to have available hand-washing stations and supply the affected areas with bagged ice, bottled water and bag baths for bathing.
A rigorous prevention, detection and remediation program is the only way to ensure that human-made water systems can distribute safe, potable water. Science has proven that Legionella is resilient and opportunistic. According to the CDC, Legionella is found naturally in fresh water environments, like lakes and streams. It can grow and spread in human-made water systems. Experts say Legionella is regularly present in the water system of multi-level facilities such as hospitals, hotels, apartment buildings, stadiums, etc.
VAPHS uses a chlorine method to help prevent Legionella growth within its complex plumbing systems at both the University Drive location in Oakland and H.J. Heinz III in O’Hara Township. Engineers monitor chlorine, pH and temperature levels daily to help ensure a hostile environment for Legionella.
On average, VAPHS tests approximately 2,500 fixtures annually, observing an overall positivity rate for Legionella bacteria of 1.71 percent from 2013 to 2016. VAPHS is required by VHA directive to test approximately 1,200 fixtures annually.
Advanced technical solutions and remediation techniques, including thermal eradication, hyper-chlorination and shock chlorination, are used to mitigate Legionella bacteria when it is detected.
VAPHS makes comprehensive data available, updated at least monthly, on our Water Surveillance Site.
The health and safety of our Veterans, employees and visitors is our most important priority.
If you have any questions, please contact Public Affairs Officer Kathleen Pomorski at 412-216-8890 or [email protected].
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System