The new year did not get off to a great start for a hospital in Queensland, Australia, when legionella was discovered in the water system used throughout the hospital. The discovery was made after a 46-year-old female patient was diagnosed with legionella pneumophila bacteria.
The Wesley Hospital suffered a similar occurrence in 2013, when a legionella outbreak was discovered after the death of a patient – a 60-year-old man who was receiving treatment for cancer. A second patient also fell ill, leading the hospital to a virtual closedown while investigations were carried out. The outbreak was traced back to the hospital’s hot water system. Hospital executives vowed to learn lessons from the incident, and tested regularly as a consequence, with every test coming back negative.
However, the 2016 outbreak was traced to a contaminated ice machine on the afflicted patient’s palliative care ward. Despite the hospital changing the filters on their equipment every three months, it would appear that the stubborn bacteria had got into the pipes. While the hospital were keen to stress that the diagnosed patient was already quite unwell with another condition, and had spent time out of hospital where they could have come in to contact with legionella, they wanted to be sure that no risk remained, and had instructed their doctors to monitor all patients closely for signs of legionella.
The legionella pneumophila bacteria favour warm water, or man-made fixtures such as pipes and taps. With so many potential locations for the bacteria to be found within hospital grounds, and the discovery that the Wesley Hospital had waited a week to notify the authorities of the 2013 outbreak, the Australian Health Minister Jeannette Young introduced mandatory periodic testing.
While legionella tends not to affect those under 50, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, such as hospital patients, remain the most at risk group.