Potentially deadly Legionella bacteria found at UPMC Presbyterian

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PITTSBURGH - Infection control workers at UPMC Presbyterian hospital this week found Legionella bacteria in sinks in three patient rooms, but officials said no patients have tested positive for Legionnaires' disease, a potentially fatal pneumonia.

As a preventive measure, officials at the region's largest hospital moved 11 patients from the affected unit to other parts of the hospital, Tami Minnier, UPMC's chief quality officer, said on Tuesday. The patients are being monitored.

Workers identified the Legionella contamination in a pulmonary medicine unit on the hospital's 10th floor, she said. The unit, which houses vulnerable patients with lung disease, recently was remodeled and routine water testing was done when it reopened.

“When you go and look for something really aggressively and you monitor it, and you track it, you find it,” Minnier said. “The most important thing is that when you find it, you remediate it. It does not mean that anything is wrong.”

UPMC reported the Legionella finding to the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“They're taking appropriate steps to deal with the issue,” said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the county Health Department.

Legionella occur naturally in the environment, and health experts have said Western Pennsylvania's combination of abundant water and old plumbing can help the bacteria to flourish.

UPMC officials said they are intentionally aggressive about monitoring Legionella since discovering the bacteria in ice machines at Presby two months ago. The bacteria, uncovered in May, contributed to one patient's death and sickened two others, hospital officials said.

An extensive overhaul and sterilization of ice machines throughout UPMC's 20 hospitals resulted.

Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.