Avoidable Waterborne Illnesses Costing US Healthcare Billions

Waterborne Illnesses Costing US Healthcare Billions

Here we take a look at the impact of waterborne illnesses on US healthcare costs and consider whether there are lessons to be learned for the UK and other countries around the world.

The Tufts University School of Medicine in the USA recently pored over 15 years’ worth of data from the United States concerning cases where people were hospitalised with a waterborne illness. Over 600,000 cases were identified, and three waterborne pathogens were discovered to be responsible for nearly all of them. Perhaps not surprisingly, Legionella pneumophila was one of those pathogens. The other two were Mycobacterium avium, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Legionella pneumophila, Mycobacterium avium, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were responsible for nearly all hospitalisations associated with waterborne illness

The US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attribute around 85% of all Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in the country to poorly managed water systems that could have been prevented by effective water management programmes.

Most waterborne illnesses are preventable

The cost of these water related hospitalisations was estimated at $9 billion across that time. That is a sobering figure, and more so when you realise around 85% of those cases were preventable. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on introducing effective water management programmes that help to keep water systems safe. Such management programmes help to ensure cases of waterborne illnesses will be reduced, with fewer people being admitted to hospital.

around 85% of hospitalisations were preventable

Does this apply in the UK too?

It does. In the UK many cases of Legionnaires’ disease are traced to outbreaks caused by a lack of proper management and control of water systems in buildings and other premises. Often with large and very complex water systems, hospitals and similar care facilities are at risk of such outbreaks, perhaps more so than many other locations.

Who’s at risk from water contaminated with legionella?

Legionella bacteria can cause anyone to fall ill, but those who are already suffering poor health are at greater risk. If someone has a weak immune system, is in hospital following surgery or treatment, or has an ongoing health condition, they will be at greater risk of being infected.

The fatality rate for Legionnaires’ disease is also much higher in those who are already suffering poor health when they are infected. The fatality rate in this group could be as much as 46%. Compare that to the 10% fatality rate in general, and it is easy to see why a good water management programme and system of control is vital in hospitals, healthcare facilities, and care homes for the elderly.

A reliable water management programme will help prevent other waterborne illnesses too

If a facility or business takes the time to put together a good water management programme, they will significantly reduce the chance of people being exposed to other waterborne pathogens as well.

Few in the USA or UK will be aware of the figures relating to outbreaks of Legionnaires’ and other water related illnesses. But we should all be aware of our responsibilities to minimise the dangers inherent in any water supply. By treating, disinfecting, and maintaining clean and safe supplies of water, we can all reduce the chances of further outbreaks stemming from waterborne pathogens such as legionella. This should also ensure the hospitalisations, associated costs, and effects of waterborne illnesses are reduced as much as possible. In the end, that is what we should all work towards to stay safe.

Legionella and water safety specialists

Our teams of water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens including Legionella bacteria in the workplace, helping them to protect their people and meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area. We deliver professional water safety legionella risk assessments, water testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services that help keep staff, students and others safe.

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