German prosecutors have opened a probe against two Frankfurt hospital directors following a recent deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at a clinic, a spokesman said.
The investigation will examine whether the rare disease caused the deaths of up to six patients at the hospital and if negligence at the facility allowed the bacteria to spread.
The hospital directors could face charges of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.
A spokesman for the Brandenburg state health office, Heinz-Dieter Walter, said today it had been confirmed that two women died of Legionnaires' disease and three other patients at the hospital were being treated for the illness. He said that the outbreak posed no general health risk in the community.
The probe will determine whether the other four deaths were caused by the bacteria.
The hospital notified the office in early July of the Legionnaires' cases and took action to stop the further spread of the disease at the hospital, Walter said.
The bacteria is believed to have spread in a hot water heater at the clinic and a shower ban has been introduced in the affected ward.
Investigators believe that other patients may have been infected with the disease but did not succumb to it.
Berlin's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases and the federal environmental agency plan to assist the probe, an agency spokesman said.
Legionnaires is an infectious disease causing a severe form of pneumonia. It is produced by a bacterium that colonizes in warm, stagnant water and may be found in such places as air cooling systems, humidifiers and water taps.
The bacterium was named Legionella pneumonia when, in 1976, 29 people died after suddenly becoming ill at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.
In early 2001 a number of swimming pools in Berlin were closed due to the detection of the bacteria. But the quick reaction of authorities prevented an outbreak.