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Pittsburgh VA had most Legionella in region among samples reviewed

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The Department of Veterans Affairs' hospitals in the Pittsburgh area found far more Legionella bacteria than counterparts throughout the region, according to test samples from as far back as 2006 reviewed by the Tribune-Review.

More than 160 samples tested by the VA Pittsburgh hospitals since 2007 contained the potentially deadly bacteria, including the University Drive hospital in Oakland, the H.J. Heinz campus in O'Hara and the Highland Drive facility, which is being phased out. About 100 positive samples were at Oakland, about 40 at Highland Drive and about 20 at O'Hara.

None of the five other hospitals in the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 4 region that supplied records had more than nine positive samples, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Trib requested Legionella test results from the VA Pittsburgh's three facilities and the nine other medical centers in VISN4. Headquartered in Pittsburgh and headed by director Michael Moreland, the region includes most of Pennsylvania and parts or all of five neighboring states. Six hospitals, including Pittsburgh, provided the records.

The VA Philadelphia tests had nine Legionella-positive samples from 2008 to 2013. On one of those occasions — Sept. 23, 2009 — three of five samples tested positive, according to the records. VA national guidelines say its hospitals should implement anti-Legionella action plans if more than 30 percent of sample sites within the facility contain Legionella.

That September 2009 test was the only one outside of a Pittsburgh hospital to surpass the 30 percent threshold, records show.

Philadelphia stepped up its testing this year, checking more than 150 samples in January and February, one of which contained the bacteria, according to the hospital's records.

Six samples at the VA hospital in Lebanon tested positive, two in 2012 and one each in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

The Coatesville VA in Chester County found no Legionella in its annual tests of 10 to 14 samples from 2008 through 2011. None of the bacteria turned up in any of the 30 samples tested in 2012, according to records.

VA hospitals in Altoona and Wilmington, Del., also found no Legionella, records show.

The VISN4 hospitals that have not provided records under the Trib's FOIA request include Butler, which announced a positive Legionella test last year; Erie; Wilkes-Barre; and Clarksburg, W.Va.

Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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