The hospital water supply as a source of nosocomial infections: a plea for action

Arch Intern Med. 2002 Jul 8;162(13):1483-92. doi: 10.1001/archinte.162.13.1483.


Background: Microbiologically contaminated drinking water is a cause of community-acquired infection, and guidelines for prevention of such infections have been established. Microbes in hospital water can also cause nosocomial infection, yet guidelines for preventing such infections do not exist. The purpose of this review is to assess the magnitude of the problem caused by waterborne nosocomial infections and to plea for immediate action for their prevention.

Methods: We conducted a MEDLINE search of the literature published between January 1, 1966, and December 31, 2001.

Study selection and data extraction: Investigations in which microorganisms (other than Legionella species) caused waterborne nosocomial infections and public health agency recommendations for drinking water.

Results: Forty-three outbreaks of waterborne nosocomial infections have been reported, and an estimated 1400 deaths occur each year in the United States as a result of waterborne nosocomial pneumonias caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa alone. Despite the availability of effective control measures, no clear guidelines exist for the prevention of these infections. By contrast, guidelines for the prevention of community-acquired waterborne infections are now routinely used. Hospitals caring for patients at high risk for infection do not enforce the standards of water quality recommended by US and United Kingdom public health agencies for the patients' community counterparts.

Conclusion: Because of the seriousness of these nosocomial waterborne infections and the availability, low cost, and proven effectiveness of sterile water, we recommend that hospitalized patients at high risk for infection avoid exposure to hospital water and use sterile water instead.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillosis / prevention & control
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology*
  • Cross Infection / etiology*
  • Cross Infection / microbiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Hospitals / standards*
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods*
  • Legionellosis / prevention & control
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Supply / standards*