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VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System hospital slow to report Legionella bacteria, CDC says

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By Michael Hasch
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says an infection team was not immediately notified of positive tests for Legionella bacteria at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System hospital in Oakland, Sen. Bob Casey's office said on Monday.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner declined to release the report or to comment other than to say the report was done at the request of the Veterans Affairs Department.

“Customarily, it's up to them to provide further comment on the report,” Skinner said.

VA spokesman David Cowgill could not be reached. Casey's office could not be reached for further comment on a news release announcing the report.

Casey's revelation was made on the eve of Tuesday's investigative hearing under the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in Washington into the Legionnaires disease outbreak that is blamed in at least one veteran's death at the hospital last year.

“The CDC report underscores the need to have appropriate reporting requirements to keep people safe and informed,” Casey said in the release.

“This report still leaves many unanswered questions and I am hopeful that the (VA Office of Inspector General) report I requested in December will provide additional answers.

U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, sought Tuesday's hearing to highlight standards for water purification, whether the Pittsburgh VA followed those standards and how to prevent repeat episodes.

Doyle and Murphy could not be reached Monday night.

According to Casey, the CDC report shows:

• Positive Legionella tests were not reported to the infection prevention team immediately. Casey's office did not specify which infection team.

• There is no comprehensive schematic for the entire potable water system at the hospital due to the age of the system and ongoing modifications to it.

• VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, the state Department of Health and Allegheny County Health Department need to re-evaluate how they identify Legionnaires' outbreaks and situations that may lead to outbreaks.

Tests showed that five people contracted the waterborne form of pneumonia inside Pittsburgh's VA system when the Legionnaires outbreak was announced in November. One patient died from the disease, the Allegheny County Health Department said.

Three hospital workers contracted pneumonia and a fourth reported respiratory problems, but none of the workers could be conclusively diagnosed with Legionnaires, according to their union, the American. Federation of Government Employees.

The VA Office of the Inspector General is conducting a separate review of the Oakland outbreak and into the control of Legionella bacteria at other VA hospitals, with findings expected in March.

The VA announced the outbreak on Nov. 16, about a week before World War II veteran William E. Nicklas, 87, died of Legionnaires at the Oakland hospital. His family believes he contracted the disease inside the facility and that his death was preventable, attorney Harry S. Cohen said.

Illinois manufacturer LiquiTech Environmental Solutions reported finding deficiencies in the hospital's water systems nearly 12 months before the VA revealed the outbreak, tentatively tied to contaminated tap water.

Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820.

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