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Legionnaires' Disease Rising in Healthcare Facilities

Legionella Test
Patients are contracting Legionnaires' disease from healthcare facilities at an alarming rate. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people infected with Legionnaires’ disease grew by nearly four times from 2000–2014.

What Is Legionnaires' Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella. The disease is transmitted through contaminated water droplets, which can be small enough to be inhaled. Unfortunately, one in 10 persons who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease do not survive. Fatality rates are higher (25 percent) for patients infected in healthcare facilities because they aren't healthy when they contract the disease.

At least 20 Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks are reported each year. According to the latest CDC report, outbreaks most frequently occurred at hotels and resorts, long-term care facilities, and hospitals. While 44 percent of the outbreaks were travel-associated and 33 percent were healthcare–associated, outbreaks at healthcare facilities were larger and resulted in more deaths than travel-associated outbreaks.

Legionnaire Outbreaks Are Preventable

Nearly all outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease could have been prevented, often with more effective water management. "Legionnaires disease at healthcare facilities is widespread, deadly and preventable," Anne Schuchat, MD (RADM, USPHS), acting director of the CDC, stated in conjunction with the report. According to the CDC’s investigation:

  • Approximately 48 percent of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks are due to more than one of the following problems.
  • Approximately 65 percent are due to process failures, such as not having a Legionella water management program.
  • Approximately 52 percent are due to human error, such as a hot tub filter not being cleaned or replaced as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Approximately 35 percent are due to equipment, such as the failure of a disinfection system.
  • Approximately 35 percent are due to changes in water quality from reasons external to the building itself, such as nearby construction.

Legionnaire’s Disease Lawsuits

Because outbreaks are often attributable to negligence, patients infected with Legionnaire’s disease may seek compensation for their injuries. In Michigan, the McLaren-Flint Hospital is facing a $100-million lawsuit over what the state has characterized as the "largest healthcare-associated Legionnaires' outbreak known" in the United States. The state is also pursuing its own investigation into the hospital’s alleged failures to prevent contamination of its water supply.

The McLaren outbreak killed 12 people in 2014 and 2015 and sickened at least 80 others. Bolstering the lawsuit’s claims, the CDC has established the connection between a water sample taken from the hospital and three sputum samples from patients who were diagnosed with Legionnaires.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a hospital-acquired infection, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.