Legionella found in water at CVPH; no illness reported

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 6:03 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - The Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh has Legionella bacteria in its water systems. That’s the pathogen that can cause Legionnaires’ disease, which can be fatal.

There are no cases of Legionnaires’ disease attributed to the water at CVPH. The hospital says it has only treated three cases of Legionnaires’ in the last 15 months and those patients all had it when they were admitted.

But just to be safe, CVPH says until the bacteria is flushed out, it’s not using tap water for showers, baths, drinking or making ice.

“I get it, it looks and sounds dramatic but I really want to assure people out there that the levels we’re finding out there are very low,” said Dr. Keith Collins, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH.

CVPH says legionella is a waterborne bacteria and is something tested for regularly in its water systems. They’ve seen it dating back to January 2020.

“It’s already there, it’s in all of our water systems. It just depends at what levels they come back detected as,” said Brenda Murphy, the director of quality care and safety at CVPH.

“Our levels in our system are exceedingly low and I doubt they pose a risk to anyone,” Collins said.

The bacteria like to live in warm, stagnant water and if it makes its way into someone’s lungs, it can be deadly.

“It’s not by consumption it is through inhalation, so it’s aerosolization,” Murphy said.

That’s what happened in Burlington. Back in 1977, just one year after the bacteria was first discovered, there was a major outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at what was then called the Medical Center Hospital. More than 50 people were sickened and 17 died.

The outbreak was traced back to the air conditioning system on the hospital campus.

CVPH says its water is not making anyone sick.

“We just have our water testing positive for it, it’s a different situation than what Vermont saw a few years ago where they actually had an outbreak,” Collins said.

But they are working now to filter it out because they found Legionella in 30% of their samples. It will take time, state resources and a lot of money to get levels down.

“I don’t want to get into specifics on the cost but it is significant,” said Christopher Booth of patient care operations at CVPH.

The hospital is purchasing point-of-use filters that look and work similarly to a Brita filter you would use in your home. The filter goes on to faucets and can be fitted to showerheads.

“As a way to mitigate or deal with this and reduce the potential exposure down to zero,” Booth said.

The hospital says there is no reason to be concerned and cancel appointments or surgeries.

Those filters should arrive Wednesday and be up and running by next week, which would eliminate the need for bottled water.

The hospital will continue to test the water.

I checked in with the Clinton County Health Department. Officials there told me there is no concern outside of the hospital at this time.

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