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CDC Calls on Hospitals To Fight Rising Legionnaires’ Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) June Vital Signs report focuses on the increased prevalence of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States and offers suggestions for how hospitals and other facilities can combat its spread.

The June Vital Signs report finds that the number of U.S. residents with Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever—both caused by Legionella bacteria—increased 286 percent from 2000 to 2014. Nearly 10 percent of Legionnaires’ disease cases are fatal.

Reports of the illnesses likely have increased due to a true rise their frequency, related to various factors; increased use and availability of diagnostic tests; and more reliable reporting to public health agencies, the CDC said.

Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease most often occur in buildings that have large water systems, including hospitals and long-term care facilities, the report notes. About 65 percent of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks occur because such facilities lack a Legionella water management program.

To better prevent the spread of Legionella bacteria, CDC recommends that state and local officials

  • include Legionella water management programs in requirements for licensing and accreditation of health care facilities;
  • consider incorporating Legionella water management programs into building and public health codes;
  • provide tools and information to building owners and managers to encourage Legionella water management programs; and
  • promptly investigate reports of Legionnaires’ disease.

The agency also suggests that health care providers

  • inform patients who are at increased risk for pneumonia, including Legionnaires’ disease;
  • use a urinary antigen test and a culture from a lower respiratory specimen to test patients with serious pneumonia for Legionnaires’ disease; and
  • quickly report positive Legionnaires’ disease lab tests to public health authorities.

About the Author

Michelle Rosenfeld is manager of communications at America's Essential Hospitals.

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