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Tip of the month: Include water fountains on Legionella hit list


June 1, 2010

Tip of the month

Include water fountains on your Legionella hit list

The dangers of Legionella in hospital water systems are well known. Even decorative water fountains can be a risk with Legionella, as Aurora St. Luke’s South Shore Hospital in Cudahy, WI, found out recently. 

The hospital had ties to at least six cases of  Legionella in March that state and hospital investigators traced to a fountain near the main entrance. Aerosolizing water, such as mist from a fountain, can carry Legionella organisms to people.

Aurora notified more than 1,000 patients who were at St. Luke’s South Shore from February 24 through March 10, warning them that they might have been exposed to the illness and to be wary of symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, and shortness of breath.

Meanwhile, the hospital sanitized and then shut down the main entrance fountain.

“As a precaution, all water features throughout Aurora have been turned off,” the facility said in a statement.

Under EC.02.05.01, The Joint Commission requires hospitals to have a process for managing pathogenic biological agents in cooling towers, domestic hot water, and other water systems that have the potential of being aerosolized.

A study in the December 2007 Managing Infection Control outlined three ways to minimize the risk of Legionella in your water systems:

  • Release copper and silver ions into a hot water system, which helps eradicate Legionella
  • Inject chlorine dioxide into the water, which over the long term can reduce the presence of the bacteria
  • Use point-of-use filtration, which removes Legionella at faucets and other outlets

A combination of the three tactics may be the most effective approach, according to the research.

The Joint Commission does not require that hospitals check for Legionella, but this process is useful in determining the possible presence of the waterborne bacteria in the facility. 

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