LTC the overwhelming source of Legionnaires' in healthcare facilities, CDC says

Share this content:
Gram-negative Legionella pneumophila bacteria (Janice Haney Carr, CDC)
Gram-negative Legionella pneumophila bacteria (Janice Haney Carr, CDC)

Legionnaires' disease tends to be more common and deadly within post-acute care facilities than others — and providers need to do more to reduce the risk to residents, health officials announced on Tuesday.

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced results of a study that found 76% of Legionnaires' cases reported in 2015 could be traced to healthcare facilities. Of those cases, 80% were linked back to long-term care facilities, followed by 18% at hospitals and 2% to both.

Eighty-eight percent of Legionnaires' cases that year were reported in patients older than 60, the CDC said. About 25% of patients in healthcare facilities who contract legionnaires' die from it. That's two-and-a-half times the rate of all who contract the disease, which comes from inhaling water containing Legionella bacteria. 

“Legionnaires' disease in healthcare facilities is widespread, deadly and preventable," CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. said during a press conference. “People can inhale the bacteria from small water droplets from showers, water therapy spas, baths, cooling towers, decorative fountains and medical equipment, like respiratory therapy equipment.” 

The report comes three days after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a memo to surveyors explaining that healthcare providers soon will be expected to have policies in place to reduce the risk of Legionnaires'.

Marc Siegel, M.D., told providers to monitor patients with pneumonia for Legionnaires', and to keep their facilities sterile, according to MedlinePlus.

“This is all about improper maintenance, improper sanitation and improper sterilization, and a vastly underreported problem,” Siegel said.