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Health officials retreat on Legionnaires' claim at Brackenridge nursing home

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, 11:25 p.m.

Allegheny County health officials now say they don't know whether someone at a Brackenridge nursing home contracted Legionnaires' disease.

“A possible case is being investigated, but has not been confirmed,” Melissa Wade, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said Thursday.

The health department is awaiting test results to determine if Legionella bacteria is present at the Platinum Ridge Center for Rehabilitation and Healing on Broadview Boulevard.

“Any actions are precautionary as the investigation proceeds,” Wade said. The nursing home is using bottled water as a precaution.

Platinum Ridge's administrator, Hillary Butts, sent out a letter saying that a “resident or employee” has been “diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.” She said the county health department took water samples Nov. 4.

Legionnaires' disease is not contagious. It's contracted by breathing mist contaminated with the bacteria.

Standard county health department recommendations when Legionnaires' cases are found are “heightened surveillance, water restrictions, remediation and retesting,” Wade said.

Wade said only one suspected case of Legionnaires' disease is being investigated at the nursing home.

“This isn't a breakout,” she said.

That's good news in the Pittsburgh region, which is one of the “hot spots in the U.S.” for the Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires' disease, said University of Pittsburgh infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja.

He said Legionella can be “very aggressive.” When the bacteria causes Legionnaires' disease, the disease carries a higher mortality rate than less severe forms of pneumonia.

Adalja said it's important for health inspectors to determine where the bacteria is and whether anyone else has been infected.

Body fluids can be checked to determine if a person has been exposed.

He said routinely prescribed antibiotics, such as a “Z pack” (azithromycin) can effectively combat the bacteria.

Still, Legionella offers a challenge for older patients and people with respiratory illness and diabetes.

The Mid-Atlantic region consistently reports “the highest annual incidence of reported legionellosis cases in the U.S.,” said Centers for Disease Control spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

Platinum Ridge's Butts said the company is focusing on protecting patients and staff.

She declined to give specifics about how the facility would remediate and retest if needed.

Last month, Legionella bacteria was found in water at a McKeesport nursing home that is part of John J. Kane Regional Centers. One patient tested positive for Legionnaires' disease.

Kane Regional officials announced that a $30,000 water disinfection system has been installed to treat water throughout the home, which is owned by Allegheny County. That nursing home has a total of almost 600 patients and employees.

Butts couldn't say what Platinum Ridge would do or when.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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