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Medical tests inconclusive on ill workers at Pittsburgh VA facility

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By Adam Smeltz
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Medical tests proved inconclusive for several VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System workers who fell ill around the time of a fatal Legionnaires' outbreak in the hospitals, a union spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Three workers in the VA hospital in Oakland contracted pneumonia and a fourth reported respiratory problems, Kathi Dahl, president of Local 2028 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in December. She said she referred them for tests to determine whether they developed the ailments within the hospital, the site of the Legionnaires' outbreak that was announced in November.

None of the workers could be conclusively diagnosed with Legionnaires', said Chelsea Bland, an AFGE spokeswoman in Washington.

Bland said the ambiguous outcome might have stemmed in part from the timing of the tests. All the workers recovered and returned to work, according to the union.

Other tests found five people contracted Legionnaires' disease, a waterborne form of pneumonia, inside the Pittsburgh VA system. One patient died from the disease, the Allegheny County Health Department said.

The VA made the outbreak public on Nov. 16, suggesting a water-treatment system might not have been as effective as once thought. It discovered Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires', in tap water in the Oakland hospital and at its H.J. Heinz Campus in O'Hara.

Both underwent temporary water restrictions and switched to new treatment systems in late 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the VA Office of Inspector General are investigating the matter.

A U.S. House subcommittee on veterans' affairs scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning in Washington.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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