Water Systems High in Bacteria Pose Serious Safety Threat to Elderly, Smokers -- WHO, VA Healthcare, ASHRAE Offer Prevention Disinfection Guidelines

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Water in hospitals, hotels, commercial office buildings, and long-term care facilities contain waterborne pathogens, like Legionella, Pseudomonas, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. New guidance documents from 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) give new approaches for disinfection and prevention.

Water in hospitals, hotels, commercial office buildings, and long-term care facilities contain waterborne pathogens, like Legionella, Pseudomonas, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. If you are elderly or a hospital patient, you are vulnerable to illnesses, like Legionnaires’ disease, which are caused by these 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.

“You’d be surprised at what’s in your water,” says Dr. Janet Stout, director of Special Pathogens Laboratory. (http://www.specialpathogenslab.com) “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% when hospitalized patients got Legionnaires’ disease from the hospital water. Of those, 88% were acute care hospitals, 12% 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 leading expert in Legionella detection and disinfection. “These new guidelines offer a preventative 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,” (http://www.nfmt.com/EducationEvents/sessiondescription.asp?id=1147) she will identify waterborne pathogens in building water systems that pose a risk of infection; review the Do’s and Don’ts for assessing and managing risks from utility water systems; give the status of guidance documents, and the impact on utility system operation and maintenance.

Special Pathogens Laboratory®
Special Pathogens Laboratory, The Legionella Experts,® is the leading analytical microbiology laboratory offering the healthcare industry, water treatment industry, and commercial and industrial sectors reliable, high-quality microbiology services. An accredited laboratory and ELITE certified by the CDC for expertise in Legionella testing, SPL® specializes in the detection, control, and disinfection of Legionella, and other waterborne microorganisms, responsible for serious infections, including thousands of hospital-acquired infections annually.

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Jackie Lesjak
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