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Legionella at Presby: Something's missing

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Saturday, May 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

UPMC disclosed last week that it discovered the pesky Legionella bacteria in ice machines at Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital late last year and that it contributed to the death of one patient and sickened two others.

In response, UPMC says it overhauled and sterilized about 500 ice machines at its Presby flagship in Oakland and 19 other hospitals. The hospital giant says the Legionella was discovered in October and December. And it says it notified the Allegheny County and Pennsylvania health departments, in addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Karen Hacker, who heads the county health department, praised UPMC for disclosing the matter.

“Whenever you have an outbreak in an unusual scenario, you really want to get that information out so other institutions can learn from it,” she told the Trib. “(UPMC) went above and beyond to get at the source of the problem.”

That's all well, good and wonderful. But something's missing here and it's no small something:

Where was the public notification of this problem? Is it of no concern to hospital and local, state and federal health officials that the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were patients at or visited UPMC Presby late last year have been left to wonder if they, too, might have been exposed and/or infected?

Hospital and health officials likely will argue that the risk was low and isolated. Perhaps it was. But patients and visitors still have every right to know about that risk, that threat, in real time and to assess their options accordingly.

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