Pittsburgh hospital had Legionella in ice machines

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PITTSBURGH – The bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease has been found in ice machines at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s flagship hospital, where officials say one patient died and two were sickened by the bug late last year.


Tami Minnier, the hospital chain’s chief quality officer, said officials at UPMC-Presbyterian hospital initially were stumped when tests of the hospital’s water system were negative for Legionella. The bacteria, which causes a potentially lethal strain of pneumonia, typically develops in warmer water.


But officials reviewed the dead patient’s medical records and found he had been restricted to eating ice chips and had inhaled a chip into his lung. Hospital officials then found the bacteria in some of its ice machines, Minnier said.


UPMC spokeswoman Wendy Zellner said that water reservoirs in the ice machines were close to refrigeration compressors that heat up, which warmed the nearby water to a degree that the bacteria developed. Zellner stressed that the hospital’s water supply was not to blame.


As a result of the findings, about 500 ice machines in UPMC’s 20 hospitals as well as four nursing facilities were being sterilized and equipped with filters.


Minnier said the ice machines that tested positive for the bacteria – fewer than 20 percent of the machines at UPMC-Presbyterian – have been removed.


UPMC officials aren’t naming the Legionnaire’s victims due to medical privacy laws.


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