Legionnaires' Cases Uncommon Infections

December 27, 2007
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Last year’s appearance of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease in the plumbing system at Saint Mary’s Health Care’s Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids was a departure from the list of infections common in health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Two people were treated for Legionnaires’ at the time, said Dr. David Baumgartner, Saint Mary’s vice president of medical affairs and an infectious disease specialist. One was Scott Miller, a 37-year-old cancer patient from Hastings, who died July 29 at the hospital.

A second case was discovered about six weeks later during a review of hospital admissions records, Baumgartner said. Baumgartner said Saint Mary’s has been unable to determine whether the patient acquired the bacteria in the hospital or prior to admission.

“It would have to be listed as a possible case. It occurred at the same time, but only came to light probably a month and half later,” Baumgartner said.

Miller developed Legionnaires’ disease after inhaling the bacteria during a shower while a patient at Lacks. The hospital called on an out-of-state consultant to track down the bacteria and treat the plumbing system. Bottled water was distributed throughout both the cancer center and the acute-care hospital until Aug. 31.

The case drew criticism for both the hospital and the Kent County Health Department for the month-long delay in public notification. Saint Mary’s and the health department said that after review by several agencies, including the CDC, it was decided the situation did not pose a public health threat. Democrats on the Kent County Commission backed a plan to require public notification of such events in the future, but the idea was blocked.

Baumgartner said filters were added to the water system, which was decontaminated with high heat and treated with a form of chlorine. He said ongoing monitoring of the water system has found no further problems.

“The approach we took, we stand by,” Baumgartner said. “I think we exceeded the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control”

Dr. David Dobbie, medical director for infection control at Spectrum Health, said Legionnaires’ spread through a water system is unusual and rare.

“They treated a single case like it was something they needed to chase after aggressively. I would interpret that as much to their credit,” Dobbie said.   HQX

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