Hopkins finds trace of bacteria that can cause Legionnaires'

Hospital puts precautions in place at cancer center

no cases have resulted

October 29, 2003|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Johns Hopkins Hospital is bringing in bottled water for patients and taking other precautions in its Comprehensive Cancer Center after finding a trace of the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires' disease in the building's water supply.

No cases of the potentially fatal disease, which is characterized by pneumonia, have resulted, hospital spokesman Trent Stockton said.

The precautions Hopkins is taking - which include prohibitions on showers, tub bathing and drinking from water fountains - were put in place Friday after tests confirmed that a trace of Legionella pneumophila was present in a water sample taken Oct. 13, Stockton said. He said the delay resulted from the fact that it took that long to grow the cultures needed to confirm the bacteria's presence.

The trace was found during routine testing, and only in the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, which houses the cancer center, he said. The center has 154 beds and an outpatient center.

Legionnaires' disease, named after a 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, is relatively rare. An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people get the disease in the United States each year, and 5 percent to 30 percent of them die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria, which is commonly found in water, thrive in warm environments and spread when people inhale mists from contaminated sources such as showers, faucets and cooling towers.

Symptoms include fever, chills, a cough and pneumonia. But some people can be infected with the Legionella bacterium and have mild symptoms or no illness at all. Patients with compromised immune systems are at higher risk than others for the disease, which is not spread from person to person.

"Any patients with symptoms of pneumonia are being evaluated for symptoms of Legionnaires'," Stockton said, adding that such patients are being tested for the disease using a urinary antigen test.

He said Hopkins, which has not found the precise source of the bacteria, is doing everything possible to isolate it and remove it. The hospital wasn't specific, but commonly used techniques include draining pipes, superheating water and using heavy doses of chlorine.

Hopkins notified the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene of the findings Monday.

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