As of March 10, 2011, nine people have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease after having been patients at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. A tenth case is in the offing. This scenario is very similar to other outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease that have occurred at other hospitals around the country. Similar outbreaks have occurred during hospital construction in San Antonio, Texas and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thousands of patients are contracting Legionnaires’ disease every year. Just by way of background, when a person acquires Legionnaires’ disease in a medical setting such as a hospital, the disease is called nosocomial Legionnaires’ disease. This is different from when a person acquires the disease in a non-medical environment, when it is referred to as community acquired. From a medical and legal perspective, the differences are important. While someone such as a hotel owner owes a high duty to a guest for preventing the acquisition of the disease, a hospital is under a very high obligation to prevent a patient already in the hospital from acquiring the disease. Many patients are immunocompromised and others are highly susceptible for other reasons. This requires extreme surveillance and control measures to prevent the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease on the part of hospital management and staff.
Furthermore, there may be other entities involved who may also be held responsible for the patient’s acquisition of the disease. These entities include the construction company which was involved in the construction of the new heart tower at Miami Valley Hospital, as well as the architect/engineer among others. Often times biofilm has accumulated in the plumbing system of an existing hospital building before construction on a new wing has started. Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, resides in this biofilm. When this biofilm is dislodged during construction of the new wing, the legionella bacteria in the biofilm also gets dislodged. The bacteria then courses its way through the plumbing system of the building, and when a patient takes a shower or turns on a faucet, the bacteria becomes part of the spray which is inhaled by the patient. This is how the legionella bacteria is transmitted to the patient’s lungs resulting in Legionnaires’ disease.