Healthcare facilities advised to shut down decorative fountains following Legionnaires' disease outbreak

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Healthcare facilities should shut down indoor decorative fountains to avoid the spread of Legionnaire's disease, according to a new study.

An outbreak of the respiratory illness in southeast Wisconsin was linked to a decorative fountain in a hospital lobby, according to results published in the upcoming issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Legionella, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires' disease, is spread through inhalation of contaminated water sources. The severity of the disease makes it riskier for people with compromised immune systems, including the elderly.

While many Wisconsin hospitals shut down their fountains as a precaution when the outbreak hit in 2010, there was no published information about the decontamination process or guidelines for prevention. Researchers are urging healthcare facilities to consider turning off the fountains, especially given that some of the Legionnaire's patients had incidental exposure, such as visiting the hospital pharmacy.  

"Until additional data are available that demonstrate effective maintenance procedures for eliminating the risk of Legionella transmission from indoor decorative water fountains in healthcare settings, water fountains of any type should be considered at risk of becoming contaminated with Legionella bacteria," said lead author and Wisconsin Division of Public Health epidemiologist Thomas E. Haupt, MS.

The study can be found in the February issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.