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Valley News Dispatch

Legionella found in Brackenridge nursing home

| Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, 2:33 p.m.
Residents at Platinum Ridge Center for Rehabilitation and Healing in Brackenridge have been drinking bottled water since Legionella bacteria was found in the facility's water system.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Residents at Platinum Ridge Center for Rehabilitation and Healing in Brackenridge have been drinking bottled water since Legionella bacteria was found in the facility's water system.

A Brackenridge nursing home has the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease in its water system and someone connected to the facility has been sickened with the severe form of pneumonia.

The Platinum Ridge Center for Rehabilitation and Healing was notified by the Allegheny County Health Department earlier this month about the Legionnaires' case. County health officials and the nursing home wouldn't say whether it was a patient or a staff member who was stricken by the disease and neither would release the person's condition.

“The water at Platinum Ridge has tested positive for Legionella, and the facility is taking appropriate precautions, including providing bottled water to residents until the water has been found to be free of this bacteria,” said health department spokeswoman Melissa Wade.

Legionnaires' disease can be fatal to patients with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has reported an increasing number of cases — the latest data show a quadrupling from 2000 to 2014 — and Allegheny County has become a hot spot.

Legionnaires' disease is not spread from one person to another but rather by breathing mist contaminated with the bacteria. Limiting the way water is used, such as restricting showers and providing bottled water, are some of the precautions normally taken to prevent infection.

The nursing home, at 1050 Broadview Blvd., is one of three facilities in Western Pennsylvania that is owned by CareRite Centers LLC in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Platinum Ridge notified residents and staff about the problem in an undated letter that was signed by Hillary Butts, the administrator in Brackenridge.

Butts wrote in the letter that testing took place Nov. 4. Wade couldn't say when the patient was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease — which can include fever, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea — or what day tests confirmed the bacteria's presence in the water system.

Expert: Legionella bacteria not unusual

It's not unusual to find Legionella bacteria in hospitals or nursing homes, said Janet Stout, president of the Pittsburgh-based Special Pathogens Laboratory.

“We find it in about half of their warm water supplies,” she said.

And having one person with Legionnaires' doesn't necessarily lead to an outbreak at a facility, she said.

“People mistakenly believe there will be an outbreak,” she said. “They remember the American Legion (convention) outbreak in 1976 or the one more recently in the Bronx,” she said.

Instead, Legionnaires' cases occur “sporadically — slowly over time,” she said.

The disease can be a challenge for the elderly and people with compromised respiratory or immune systems or other factors such as diabetes, smoking or are receiving chemotherapy treatments.

Even so, if Legionnaires' is properly diagnosed and the person is given the right antibiotic, there is a “very good chance” the person will recover, Stout said.

About 5,000 cases of Legionnaires' disease are reported each year in the United States, and about 1 in 10 people infected dies from the disease, according to the CDC.

Legionnaires' cases on rise in Allegheny County

Legionnaires' disease is on the rise in Allegheny County, which has far more cases per 100,000 residents than the national average. There were 77 diagnosed cases in the county as of Nov. 12 compared with 63 for all of last year.

That's not the trend statewide. There have been 305 confirmed cases so far this year in Pennsylvania compared with 380 for all of last year.

Wade, of the health department, noted that Allegheny County's incidence rate of 5.5 per 100,000 people is much higher than the national rate of 1.6 per 100,000 reported in 2013, the latest available data.

The CDC issued a report in June about 27 Legionnaires' disease outbreaks from 2000 to 2014. One of the outbreaks was at the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare System. At least five patients' deaths were linked to that outbreak, from February 2011 to November 2012.

Families surprised

Some visitors to the Platinum Ridge facility were surprised to learn about the Legionella contamination and said they didn't know about the warning letter from Butts.

Stanley Romanowski of Freeport was one of them. He said his mother has been staying at Platinum Ridge for a “couple weeks” and he hadn't received the notification letter.

“Well, it is concerning. She's 94 years old,” he said of his mother. But he said using bottled water was “the best thing they can do until they figure out what to do (about) it.”

D.J. Huston of Buffalo Township, who visited his father Tuesday afternoon, said he was aware of the water restrictions but didn't seem to know why it was happening.

“They don't have water, that's all I know,” Huston said. “They have bottled water.”

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com. Staff writer Andrew Erickson can be reached at 724-226- 4675 or aerickson@tribweb.com. Staff writer Ben Schmitt contributed to this report.

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