Legionnaires Disease Rates Increased Among VA Patients, But Prevention Measures Working: Study

The rates Legionnaires disease diagnosed among patients at Veteran Affairs (VA) centers has increased in recent years, despite a drop in rates among patients who had an overnight stay in a VA hospital, according to the findings of new research.

In a report published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open researchers indicate that safety measures implemented at VA hospitals to combat Legionnaires disease outbreaks appear to be effective in preventing the disease, despite the overall increases seen throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Researchers analyzed data from VA medical facilities from the national VA Legionnaires surveillance system from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2016.

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Healthcare facilities are a high-risk setting for the transmission of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease.

In the new study, nearly 500 cases of Legionnaires disease among VA patients were identified through the surveillance system.

While rates of Legionnaires disease increased for VA patients, 91% of those cases had no VA exposure or only outpatient VA exposure, indicating the source of the infection was outside of the VA hospital or facility. Only 44 cases occurred among patients who actually stayed in a VA hospital overnight. In fact, cases among patients with overnight stays in a VA hospital decreased by half during the study period.

The decrease in cases of Legionnaires among overnight hospital patients indicates safety precautions, implemented by the VA, are effective in preventing the disease, the researchers determined. It also highlights patients are becoming infected outside of VA hospitals and facilities.

The VA implemented a Legionnaires disease prevention policy after several high profile outbreaks occurred in recent years. The policies include heating water to certain temperatures that kill Legionella, as well as frequently monitoring building water systems.

Building water systems are often the source of Legionnaires disease. The bacteria can multiply and thrive in different types of water systems, including plumbing systems, air conditioners, hot tubs, and mist sprayers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised that Legionnaires outbreaks can be prevented by improving water management systems across the U.S.

Legionnaires disease is a severe form of pneumonia which affects the lungs. It is caused when a person inhales water droplets contaminated with the bacteria.

Most people experience symptoms like headache, muscle pain, fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or other flu-like symptoms. Medical attention and treatment with antibiotics is required. While it is most often treatable, it can become very serious and in some cases fatal.

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