Nosocomial legionnaires' disease discovered in community hospitals following cultures of the water system: seek and ye shall find

Am J Infect Control. 1998 Feb;26(1):8-11. doi: 10.1016/s0196-6553(98)70054-9.


Background: The reservoir for hospital-acquired legionnaires' disease is the water distribution system. The Allegheny County (Pa.) Health Department recommended environmental cultures for all health care facilities for the prevention of hospital-acquired Legionella infection including facilities with no known cases of legionnaires' disease.

Methods: Environmental cultures of hot water tanks, faucets, and showerheads were performed in six health care facilities according to health department guidelines. If hot water tanks, faucets, or showerheads yielded Legionella, monitoring with Legionella culture and urinary antigen was performed for all cases of nosocomial pneumonia.

Results: Legionella was isolated from the water distribution system in 83% (five of six) of facilities. Three facilities dropped out of the study; two decided to disinfect the water and one had no Legionella in the water system. The other three facilities all discovered cases of legionnaires' disease during the 1-year study period after introduction of Legionella testing. L. pneumophilia, serogroups 1, 3, and 5, caused 12 cases of hospital-acquired legionnaires' disease. Positive diagnostic tests included: 10 of 12 (83%) urinary antigen, 6 of 8 (75%) respiratory cultures, and 2 of 5 (40%) serology. Molecular typing confirmed that the source of infection was the water supply in two hospitals.

Conclusion: Routine environmental cultures for Legionella in the water distribution system are recommended even if the hospital had not previously recognized cases of hospital acquired legionnaires' disease. The Allegheny County Health Department guidelines were inexpensive to implement and resulted in the discovery of cases that would have otherwise been undiagnosed.

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / diagnosis
  • Cross Infection / microbiology*
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control
  • Decision Trees
  • Disease Reservoirs*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Hospitals, Community*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control*
  • Legionella pneumophila* / classification
  • Legionnaires' Disease / diagnosis
  • Legionnaires' Disease / microbiology*
  • Legionnaires' Disease / prevention & control
  • Pennsylvania
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sanitary Engineering
  • Serotyping
  • Water Microbiology*