There have not been major outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in the US to rival the most well-known and eponymous episode: when 182 American Legion convention visitors became ill in 1972. However, infections continue to arise, particularly when private water systems do not have proper safety protocols in place during the warmer months. A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analyzed data from 21 locations over 20 states, all of which voluntarily provided the information. Results showed that only 3% of new Legionnaires’ cases positively associated with exposure through a health care facility, with another 17% suspected to be associated, but not be proven.
What is Legionnaires’ Disease and why is it so dangerous?
Legionnaires can best be understood as a problematic form of pneumonia, which the patient contracts through exposure to the Legionella bacteria. The bacteria live in and are transmitted through improperly treated water. Victims must inhale the vaporized form of the liquid in order to acquire the disease, so bathing in, swimming in, cooking with, or ingesting water infected with the Legionella bacteria is a serious risk for infection. The bacteria thrive in water that is standing, stagnant, kept at too warm a temperature, or that is not chlorinated/chemically disinfected. Some cases of infection have occurred when water on its way to treatment produced aerosolized particles too near an air vent, sending the pernicious bacteria directly into the path of innocent victims.
Fatality rates vary by outbreak, from 5% to 30%. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is the standard for care, but in patients who are already immunocompromised or who cannot tolerate antibiotics, recovery is not assured. Legionnaires’ acquired from hospitals is particularly deleterious, with a fatality rate of 28%, hence the CDC’s continued interest in tracking and understanding how Legionnaires’ occurs in hospital and health care settings.
Hospitals need to make changes
Because health care settings are ground zero for high-risk patients, it is imperative, according to the CDC, that these facilities stringently follow all the best practices for improving their water systems and reducing the potential for Legionella infection. The healthcare industry is at particular risk because of the proliferation of coolers, humidifiers, nebulizers, showers, and so forth present. Proactive steps can be taken at all stages of the health care facility’s life cycle, from design to operations and especially maintenance, including following the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers’ Best Practices Guide.
At McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, our South Carolina defective product attorneys are highly adept at handling complicated environmental tort and consumer protection cases occurring across the country. If you have been injured by a defective or dangerous product or became ill after a medical procedure or hospitalization, call 803-327-7800 or fill out our contact form. We are committed to defending clients’ right to compensation when negligence on the part of health care facilities results in harm.