Reducing Risks of Legionnaires Disease in US Hospitals & Healthcare Settings

Reduce legionella risk in hospitals and healthcare

In June 2017, a memorandum was issued by the USA’s Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, and Survey and Certification Group (CMS), concerning the requirement to reduce the risk of legionella spreading through water systems in US hospitals and healthcare facilities (memo reference S&C 17-30).

While the memorandum highlighted hospitals, along with those offering critical access and long-term care, it made it clear that all organisations in the healthcare field had a duty to be aware of the risks on-site, and to do all they could to mitigate the risks caused by Legionella bacteria and healthcare associated Legionnaires’ disease.

According to details released in the report, cases of Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever in the United States have multiplied by 286% in the years between 2000 and 2014. It also revealed a fatality rate of around 9% for those cases that were reported to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease are a risk in hospitals and similar settings

The same memorandum pointed out that nearly one in five of the reported outbreaks of Legionnaires’ during those same years stemmed from facilities offering long-term care. A further 15% were connected to hospitals.

Why are hospitals and healthcare settings at risk from Legionella bacteria?

While anyone can contract Legionnaires’ disease if they are exposed to high levels of Legionella bacteria, two groups of people are at greater risk of falling victim to an outbreak. These comprise elderly people and those who are suffering from an underlying medical condition that suppresses their immune system. For example, someone who is suffering from a lung condition may become more prone to infection. Smokers are also known to be at greater risk, as is anyone whose immune system isn’t as strong as it could be.

What water systems and equipment can increase legionella risks?

Legionella bacteria can grow in parts of building water systems that are continually wet, and certain systems and equipment can spread contaminated water droplets in to the air via a process known as aerosolisation. Examples of such systems include:

  • Hot and cold water storage tanks
  • Water heaters
  • Showerheads and hoses
  • Cooling towers
  • Hot tubs/saunas
  • Decorative fountains
  • Centrally-installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
  • Water-hammer arrestors
  • Pipes, valves, and fittings
  • Expansion tanks
  • Water filters
  • Electronic and manual faucets
  • Aerators
  • Faucet flow restrictors
  • Nonsteam aerosol-generating humidifiers
  • Eyewash stations
  • Ice machines
  • Medical devices (such as CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment,
  • bronchoscopes, heater-cooler units)

The importance of a water management system to control Legionnaires’

A water management system should be put in place at every hospital and healthcare facility to ensure the risk of legionella is kept as small as possible. This will include a legionella risk assessment, various approved controls such as managing the water temperature, and regular testing and cleaning.

The importance of introducing a water management policy and to know the various steps that must be taken to ensure it works cannot be underestimated. The aim here is clearly to reduce the number of cases of legionellosis occurring in the United States. The huge increase over that 15-year period cannot be ignored. It seems the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality and Survey and Certification Group have this exact task in mind at present.

World-leading legionella and water safety specialists

Our teams of water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens including Legionella bacteria in hospitals and other healthcare environments across all regions of the UK and internationally. We deliver professional water safety solutions, water testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services.

If you have questions about any of the issues raised above or you would like to speak with one of our specialists please call us today on 0330 223 36 87 or contact us here.