Legionella' bacteria responsible for a fatal outbreak of Legionaires' disease in a Veteran's Affairs hospital in Oakland, PA is almost the same as the strain responsible for another lethal outbreak 30 years ago.
The outbreak of Legionaires, which is a severe form o pneumonia caused when patients inhale legionella bacteria, has been linked to at least five deaths. The bacteria strain is thought to have survived in the water system, despite efforts to combat it which included hot water flushes, disinfectants, and filtration systems.
Genetic testing confirmed that the strain responsible for the most recent outbreak shares five of seven genes in common with the strain responsible for the 1982 outbreak, which resulted in 100 cases of the disease and 30 deaths over a three year period.
Experts believe that the bacteria survived in layers of slime and calcium coating the interior of water pipes. This strain has never been found outside the Oakland VA.
This outbreak highlights problems in the health care system. At the moment, there are no national standards for treatment and monitoring water distribution systems in health care facilities. Instead, each facility has its own standards, which may not be rigorous enough to deal with a persistent bacteria such as legionella. It remains to be seen if any changes to the current system will come out of this most recent outbreak.