Jefferson County Department of Health investigating Legionella o - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Jefferson County Department of Health investigating Legionella outbreak

Posted: Updated:
Update:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Health workers say that the right steps have been taken to stop Legionnaires' disease at UAB hospital.

We learned a 9th person, a visitor to the Women and Infants Center, got the disease.

UAB identified the problem May 7th, but the Jefferson County Department of Health says the outbreak didn't become apparent until May 19th.

Legionella is a common bacterium found in water, especially warm water.

UAB hospital believes the outbreak in the Women and Infants Center could be from the plumbing system.

The hospital spoke out about the outbreak for the first time.

Dr. Loring Rue, the Senior Vice President for Quality for the health system, says "The exact pinpoint location we're not clear yet. That's an on-going process to evaluate that."

Nine people have now tested positive. The water system only affects floors 5 through 7.

The hospital identified the problem May 7th.

Dr. Loring Rue says UAB notified patients who might have been exposed that were considered high risk.

The water system has been treated to kill any bacteria. Water filters were also added to protect patients.

Dr. Loring says, "Since we did the initial treatment which completed on May 9th, there have been no additional cases of patients testing positive."

Dr. Rue says UAB didn't alert the public sooner because the risk to the general public is very low.
It was focused on addressing the problem.

"I think we relied on thinking the public health agencies would be the main mode of communication to the public at large. Our commitment is to our patients."

The Jefferson County Health Department says making a diagnosis is more than just a test.

Dr. Mark Wilson says, "It takes time for tests to come back from a laboratory. There are a lot of people that have a positive urine test, which is the most common test for this, that are not ill. So it's a very complex process that takes time."

Dr. Mark Wilson says this is an on-going investigation and the Centers for Disease Control was asked to come in late this past week.

He points out unless you've been a patient in the areas of concern or been a visitor exposed to water droplets.. you are not considered to be at risk.

Patients are still wearing masks to flush the toilet.
Dr. Rue says tests were recently sent to a third party for another check.
    
Results should be back Friday.


The Jefferson County Health Department is working with the state department of health in this outbreak investigation.

Tonight, the department of health answers questions about the investigation into these cases.

Dr. Mark Wilson, the medical officer with the Jefferson County Department of Health says there is no reason to believe that the Birmingham water works system has been compromised.

Wilson says it took longer to report the Legionella outbreak because it was and is an ongoing investigation. 

It takes time for test results for Legionella to come back from laboratory.

Dr. Wilson says Legionella is a common bacteria found in water, cooling towers, hotels and cruise ships.

Those who were on the fifth through seventh floors of women and infants center at UAB, who came in contact with water droplets are at risk.

The ninth person who tested positive was a visitor, who had a form of chronic lung disease.

Again, Wilson says this is an ongoing investigation to learn more about who is at risk.

"The investigation is widening, to make sure that visitors and other folks have been checked out. So it is an expanding process starting with those at highest risk and going to the lower risk," Wilson says.

If you were a visitor to UAB's women and infant care center and you experience symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath or fever, you should seek a doctor.

People without those symptoms shouldn't be concerned.

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