Mar 10, 2011

Organizations Release New Guidelines on Managing Pathogens in Building Water Supplies

Presentation at facilities management conference will discuss the guidelines

Water in hospitals, hotels, commercial office buildings and long-term care facilities can contain waterborne pathogens, like Legionella, Pseudomonas and antibiotic resistant bacteria. The elderly and hospital patients are vulnerable to illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease, which are caused by these bacteria.

Now, guidance documents developed by the World Health Organization, the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, the New York Department of Health and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) offer new methods for disinfection and prevention.

Faucets, showerheads, drains, humidifiers and hot tubs provide rich environments for bacteria to colonize. Illness is caused when water is ingested, aerosolized, aspirated or directly instilled through tubes like feeding tubes.

“You’d be surprised at what’s in your water,” said Dr. Janet Stout, director of Special Pathogens Laboratory. “We want to believe that the water coming from the tap in a hospital or hotel is safe; that assumption is incorrect, especially for the elderly, smokers and anyone whose health is compromised.”

According to Stout, wherever there is water there should be concern about its quality with respect to waterborne pathogens. One study showed 41 facilities in 18 states reporting a death rate of 34% when hospitalized patients got Legionnaires’ disease from the hospital water. Of those, 88% were acute care hospitals and 12% were long-term care and rehabilitation facilities.

“Unmonitored levels of bacteria pose a definite threat to public health. Yet for too long there has been a policy of avoidance especially in the case of Legionnaires’ disease, where nothing is done until a case is diagnosed or there has been a death,” said Stout, a research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and a leading expert in Legionella detection and disinfection. “These new guidelines offer a preventative approach as well as effective detection and disinfection methods.”

Stout will lead an educational session for the National Facilities Management and Technology Conference in Baltimore on March 16. In “Waterborne Pathogens: Keeping People Healthy in the Building,” she will identify waterborne pathogens in building water systems that pose a risk of infection, review the dos and don’ts for assessing and managing risks from utility water systems and give the status of guidance documents and their impact on utility system operation and maintenance.