Contaminated Water Systems Pose Serious Threat


Water in hospitals, hotels, commercial office buildings, and long-term care facilities contain waterborne pathogens such as Legionella, Pseudomonas and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Now, guidance documents developed by the World Health Organization; the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System; the New York Department of Health; and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offer new methods for disinfection and prevention.

Faucets, shower heads, drains, humidifiers, and hot tubs provide rich environments for bacteria to colonize. Illness is caused when water is ingested, aerosolized, aspirated, or directly instilled through tubes like feeding tubes.

"Youd be surprised at whats in your water," says Dr. Janet Stout, director of Special Pathogens Laboratory. "We want to believe that the water coming from the tap in a hospital or hotel is safe, that assumption is incorrect especially for the elderly, smokers, and anyone whose health is compromised."

According to Stout, wherever there is water there should be concern about its quality with respect to waterborne pathogens. One study showed 41 facilities in 18 states reporting a death rate of 34 percent when hospitalized patients got Legionnaires disease from the hospital water. Of those, 88 percent were acute-care hospitals, 12 percent long-term care and rehabilitation facilities.

"Unmonitored levels of bacteria pose a definite threat to public health. Yet for too long there has been a policy of avoidance especially in the case of Legionnaires disease where nothing is done until a case is diagnosed or there has been a death," says Stout, a research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and an expert in Legionella detection and disinfection. "These new guidelines offer a preventive approach as well as effective detection and disinfection methods."

Stout will lead an educational session for the National Facilities Management and Technology Conference in Baltimore on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. In "Waterborne Pathogens: Keeping People Healthy in the Building," ( she will identify waterborne pathogens in building water systems that pose a risk of infection; review the dos and donts for assessing and managing risks from utility water systems; give the status of guidance documents, and the impact on utility system operation and maintenance.

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