Bacteria found at nursing home

Tests show exposure to Legionnaire's at second Harford site

July 17, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Preliminary tests found Legionella bacteria yesterday at a Havre de Grace nursing home, a day after the death of a former resident who had been sent to Harford Memorial Hospital with symptoms of Legionnaires' disease.

The discovery at Citizens Care Center is the first evidence that recent exposure to the Legionnaires' disease bacteria -- which has been linked to four deaths in the area -- was not confined to the hospital.

State health officials had linked three of the deaths to bacteria from the hospital's hot-water system.

Janet McDonald, a spokeswoman for Citizens Care Center, said the nursing home flushed and heat-treated its water system July 8 and 9 after an unidentified resident in her 80s was admitted to the hospital June 28 with pneumonia and Legionnaire's disease symptoms.

The woman died at the hospital Thursday. State health officials took more samples from the nursing home yesterday to determine the extent of the infection. No other residents have been found to have Legionnaires' disease symptoms.

Preliminary testing found bacteria in one shower head at the nursing home, McDonald said. "We are awaiting further tests," she said.

McDonald said more samples will be sent to a laboratory that specializes in detecting low levels of Legionnella bacteria. Nursing home officials also will meet Monday with a water treatment specialist.

Legionellosis is a bacterial infection that can cause a very mild respiratory illness or severe pneumonia that can lead to death. Symptoms include a dry cough, high fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, fatigue, headache and abdominal pain. The disease is spread by water droplets in the air, and the bacteria can develop in air conditioners, whirlpools, spas and showers.

The first case came to light June 8 at Harford Memorial Hospital when an unidentified patient was diagnosed with the disease. That patient was treated and released soon after.

Another patient died June 28, prompting the state health department to begin investigating the hospital as the possible site of the infection. Two other patients died of the disease on July 6 and 9.

Hospital officials have heat-treated and hyperchlorinated the hot-water system, and contacted hundreds of former patients considered in danger of exposure. No additional cases have been discovered at the hospital since July 3, when the system was first flushed.

Health officials originally focused only on the hospital as the source of the infection because four of the patients had been admitted there.

But, because the nursing home patient was admitted to the hospital with symptoms of Legionnaires' disease, state health officials began investigating Citizens Care Center.

Final test results will not be available until next week. The nursing home has banned showers for residents, is boiling drinking water and is keeping a closer watch on residents with respiratory problems, McDonald said.

Nursing home staff members and residents also are being given information on Legionnaires' disease, and health department officials will provide the nursing home with daily updates.

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