Pittsburgh VA detects legionella, issues water restrictions at Oakland facility

Pittsburgh VA detects legionella, issues water restrictions at Oakland facility

The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System has issued water restrictions at its University Drive location in Oakland due to the discovery of legionella.

There are no cases of Legionnaires' disease related to the findings and VA officials said they took action as soon as the results came back.

“Over the last month, during routine water testing we observed an unusual increase in water samples returning positive for legionella bacteria," a VA official said in a news release.

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The water is tested daily and upward of 40 samples a day are taken from different parts of the hospital. Officials said the most recent water testing was on Friday.

According to the release, samples from five sinks in a vacant administrative unit under renovation returned positive on Jan. 6. On Jan. 15, samples from two adjacent sinks returned positive. On Wednesday, samples from two sinks in an outpatient clinic and one sample from a supply line returned positive, and on Friday, two additional samples from another supply line returned positive.

“As test results became known to us, we immediately sanitized fixtures, and expediently initiated chlorine-based and thermal eradication efforts as our engineers determined appropriate," officials said in the release. "At this time, there are no cases of hospital acquired Legionnaires' disease."


Officials said, out of an abundance of caution, they are extending water restrictions for at least the next 14 days as they “complete remediation and await subsequent water test results to ensure eradication of the bacteria was successful.”

The VA said legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease when a person breathes in small droplets like mist or vapor of water contaminated with the bacteria. The disease is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

VA spokesman Mike Marcus said everyone is drinking bottled water, patients are taking baths instead of showering, and the system is being flushed and cleaned. He said workers expect to occasionally find legionella in the water, but the ultimate goal is to make sure everyone stays healthy.

At least five patients' deaths were linked to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA system between 2011 and 2012.

"We're aware of the history and are very conscious and aware of veteran and employee safety. (They) are always our top concern," Marcus said.