Representatives from the University of Florida College of Medicine and Shands HealthCare confirmed on Tuesday (Dec. 8) the presence of the Legionella bacteria, which can cause pneumonia or lung infections, in a patient room at the Shands Cancer Hospital at UF.
Testing was initiated when a patient tested positive with the bacteria. It is commonly found in water and was discovered in two sinks in a patient room.
“We have notified the medical teams to screen their patients according to clinical protocols. As of this time we have not identified any other cases,” said Dr. Timothy Flynn, interim senior associate dean for clinical affairs at UF.
Additional water samples have been taken to determine the source of the bacteria, but results are not yet available. As a precaution, hospital officials have already begun treating the water system with heat and chlorination. Officials expect the treatment process, which follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to be completed by early Thursday evening. Shands is working with NALCO, an environmental firm, to treat the water system and will continue monitoring water samples.
Shands at UF north campus is on a separate system and is not affected.
“Patient care is our top priority, and we are committed to providing our patients with a safe environment. We responded as soon as we discovered the situation and we are taking all necessary precautions,” said Timothy Goldfarb, Shands HealthCare chief executive officer.
According to the CDC, the Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems or parts of the air-conditioning systems of large buildings.
As many as 18,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with Legionella infections each year, according to the CDC. People can be infected when they breathe in a mist or vapor that has been contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria are not spread from one person to another person.
People most at risk of getting sick from the bacteria are usually 65 years of age or older as well as those who smoke or have a chronic lung disease. People who have weak immune systems from diseases like cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure are also more likely to get sick from Legionella bacteria. People who take drugs to suppress the immune system, like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy, are also at higher risk.
Hospital officials have asked patients, visitors and staff to note the following:
•Do not drink the water or use the ice machines until the treatment is completed.
•Bottled water will be available for patients, families, staff and visitors.
•Showers should not be used due to temperature variations until further notice.Nurses will assist patients in using alternative methods of bathing.
•It is safe to wash your hands with cold water and to flush the toilets.
For more information on Legionella bacteria, go to www.Legionella.org or www.cdc.gov.