Prospect Lefferts

Legionnaires’ bacteria cleanup ongoing at SUNY Downstate’s Brooklyn hospital

Patients drinking bottled water, taking ‘bath in a bag’

January 28, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in East Flatbush. Photo by Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons
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The water taps are still turned off at SUNY Downstate’s University Hospital of Brooklyn following the discovery of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease in the drinking water, Downstate Associate VP Dawn Walker told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday.

“Restrictions are still in place until we’re done with showerhead replacements and filter replacements in the ice machines,” Walker said.

Patients at the Prospect Lefferts Garden hospital are being supplied with bottled water for drinking, medications and brushing teeth and provided with “bath in a bag” products in lieu of using showers.

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Testing indicated a high percentage of samples were positive for Legionella pneumophila, the 342-bed teaching hospital said in a release on Friday.

Walker said the water restrictions would remain in place until the state Department of Health reviewed and approved the institution’s remediation.

It’s not yet known how the Legionella bacteria got into the water system, but there is “no evidence of Legionnairs’ found here and no reported cases of Legionellosis at the hospital,” Walker said.  

“This is an old building. When you’re dealing with old buildings and old pipes, it’s not unusual, unfortunately,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over the past 52 weeks there have been 47 cases of Legionellosis in New York City, 16 occurring in 2019.

Park Slope’s New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital had a similar outbreak back in December.

“It’s important to stress that Legionnaires disease is not spread from person-to-person. The hospital is open and safe for patients, staff and visitors,” Walker added.

All regulated hospitals and nursing homes are required by the state to assess and test their potable water systems for Legionella.

Most people exposed to the germs do not get sick, but people 50 years old and older — especially those who smoke or have chronic lung conditions — are at a higher risk.

According to the Health Department, Legionnaires’ disease is a serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) caused by Legionella bacteria. Legionella can also cause a milder illness called Pontiac fever. People can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally aspirate it into their lungs while drinking infected water.

Examples of building water systems that might grow and spread Legionella include shower heads and sink faucets, hot tubs, hot water tanks and heaters, large plumbing systems, cooling towers and fountains.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches or worse. People suspecting Legionnaires’ disease are urged to see a doctor immediately.

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