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Legionella found at Boston-area VA hospital

Administrators say testing at the VA hospital in West Roxbury, MA, returned positive results for low levels of Legionella bacteria after an inpatient was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, the latest case of the serious respiratory illness to hit New England in the past few months.

The patient had been treated at all three locations within the VA Boston Healthcare System, but both the Brockton Campus and Jamaica Plain Campus were found to be Legionella-free.

Low levels of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease were detected in three locations within the West Roxbury Campus, including the facility’s cooling tower, which had a culture that tested positive for “the patient’s bacteria level,” according to the VA’s media release.

The statement also said that infrequent transmission of Legionella has previously been reported between the cooling tower and the smoking shack, despite the long distance between the two. “Because the patient was immunocompromised, we believe that this exposure may be the most likely explanation for his infection,” the statement read.

All fixtures at the West Roxbury hospital have been removed from service for eradication and further testing, and officials said they don’t anticipate any new cases since the incubation period (up to 14 days) has passed.

New England fighting a losing battle against Legionnaires
Over the last three months, Legionnaires’ disease has made headlines across New England:

  • New Hampshire: Eighteen individuals were infected – one fatally – in Hampton between June 14 and Aug. 24. The state typically sees an average of 30 cases per year.
  • Rhode Island: In August, two residents at Saint Elizabeth Manor, a skilled nursing and rehab center in Bristol, were infected. Three cases were diagnosed between mid-August and early September at Summit Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Providence.
  • Maine: In late August, the Maine Center for Disease Control issued an alert to the public declaring that the state had recorded sixteen cases in 2018, including nine since the start of August.
  • Massachusetts: In early September, the Lowell Department of Public Health announced that four cases of Legionnaires had been confirmed across the city in July and August. Health officials are investigating to see if the circumstances are connected.

Water shut down at Baltimore apartment

Several Legionnaires’ disease cases and elevated levels of Legionella bacteria led to a partial water shutdown at a North Baltimore, MD, apartment complex for nearly a month, according to the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD). No information was released regarding the number of residents or staff sickened or in what timeframe the illnesses occurred.

“Water restrictions will remain in place until the Baltimore City Health Department working with Maryland Department of Health and property management confirm that remediation of the water system has been effective in reducing Legionella levels,” BCHD public information officer Mona M. Rock wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun.

Residents at The Metropolitan of Baltimore apartment complex (6101 Loch Raven Bldv.) have been restricted from showering and drinking water from their faucets since Sept. 7 because of Legionella concerns. However, hand washing, bathing and flushing toilets were allowed under the restrictions. Management recommends that residents avoid being in the bathroom as much as possible while bath water is running to prevent breathing in microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor, which is how the sometimes-deadly bacteria is contracted,

The restrictions were finally lifted Oct. 4 after treatment of the water systems throughout the 88-unit apartment, but residents were cautioned to continue to get drinking and cooking water from the cold water side of the faucet,

The second outbreak of month in Baltimore
Water restrictions were ordered last month at the Eastern Family Resource Center (EFRC), a homeless and transitional shelter in Rossville after two individuals who “spent some time at the center” were confirmed with Legionnaires’ disease. (EFRC is located approximately 8 miles from The Metropolitan of Baltimore.) According to the Maryland Department of Health, 236 cases of Legionnaires have been confirmed in the state this year.


Six sickened in Champaign County; wedding activities investigated
First Christian Church in Champaign is one of several venues being investigated after six people became ill with Legionnaires’ disease.

Baptismal font removed from Illinois church

After six cases of Legionnaires’ disease were diagnosed in Champaign County, IL, a baptismal font being tested for Legionella was removed from a local church, and the baptistry disinfected out of an abundance of caution.

First Christian Church on Staley Road in Champaign held its two services as usual last Sunday, according to lead Pastor Danny Schaffner, even though three of the six residents sickened by Legionnaires since Sept. 15 had contact with the church, according to Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (C-UPHD) administrator Julie Pryde. “We have been told there is no risk,” Schaffner told The News-Gazette.

The three residents who took ill and are connected to the church attended a wedding there near the end of September, according to a post on First Christian’s Facebook page by Mike Larson, chairman of the church’s elders.

Two other location are being investigated, although they have yet to be identified. “We are still investigating cases,” Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) public information officer Emma Ciavarella said.

The CUPHD and the IDPH said they have conducted a complete inspection of the church, including taking environmental samples from the baptistry fountain.

Said Larson: “We want to make sure that everyone was aware we have proactively followed all of the recommendations provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health.”