Florida Hospital Orlando's Water Tests Positive For Legionella

Jan 25, 2016

The Florida Department of Health is investigating after Florida Hospital Orlando’s water tested positive for Legionella bacteria.

Florida Hospital Epidemiologist Dr. Vincent Hsu said patients on chemotherapy and getting organ transplants are especially at risk.

“To reduce the risk of acquiring Legionella through mists or droplets from the water, we eliminated showering in those patient populations,” Hsu said in an interview.

The incident began when a Florida Hospital patient tested positive for Legionnaire’s disease in December. The Florida Department of Health tested the water at the Ginsburg Tower and it came back positive for the bacteria.

Hsu said that further testing showed the bacteria was a different strain than the patient had, though.

“We weren’t sure whether this was a community-acquired Legionnaire’s disease versus hospital-acquired Legionnaire’s,” Hsu said. “That was the issue we were trying to wrestle with. It doesn’t completely eliminate the fact that this may not have been hospital acquired, but again, the samples we did in our hospital quality testing did not match that of the patient.”

Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Mirna Chamorro said the department is investigating, but the results could take months.

“There’s no need for panic,” Chamorro said. “There are specific groups that are higher risk, but again, it’s not spread person to person.”

Legionnaire’s causes flu-like symptoms, and has been in the news lately after 10 people in Flint, Michigan died from the disease. The chlorine in tap water kills the bacteria, and officials said the water coming in to Florida Hospital was high quality.

But in certain pockets of Florida Hospital’s Ginsburg Tower, there were areas where the water wasn’t fresh, allowing the naturally-occurring bacteria to grow. Chlorine naturally dissipates from water.

“The water is to be managed continuously,” said Bill McCoy, the chief technical officer of Phigenics, hired by the hospital to get Legionella out of the water and keep it out. “This is not just one event, it’s for ever more.”

There were 280 Florida cases of probable and confirmed Legionellosis in 2014.

--Reporter Abe Aboraya is part of WMFE in Orlando. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.