New water risk management legislation has been passed in Queensland, Australia in the aftermath of a string of outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease at hospitals.
A string of illnesses and deaths in hospitals has raised awareness of the risks of Legionnaires’ disease in Queensland. A 2013 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at The Wesley Hospital, a private hospital in Brisbane, led to the tragic death of one cancer patient and placed another in intensive care. The bacteria was found in the hospital’s hot water system. This outbreak prompted a string of tests and responses, and the hospital put intensified water-testing measures in place at their facility. Despite these measures, in January 2016 another patient at Wesley tested positive for the disease. The bacteria was found to have originated in an ice machine and an investigation was launched. Another hospital, the Hervey Bay Hospital, suffered an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in April of 2015. One patient died and several were sickened by the bacteria, which authorities say was growing inside plumbing fixtures and pipes.
Spurred to action by these deaths, Queensland has now passed legislation requiring hospitals, private health facilities, and public assisted living facilities to undergo strict water tests and to have water risk management plans in place. Periodic testing for Legionnaires’ disease must be reported to the Queensland Health’s Public Health Unit, and any facility that tests positive for the disease must appoint a health risk manager. Facilities that fail to comply with this legislation face a hefty fine. The legislation will come into effect soon.
Hospitals and assisted-living facilities are a particular concern for those fighting the spread of Legionnaires’ disease for several reasons. Large buildings with complex water systems allow the bacteria many opportunities to grow and spread, and the source of an outbreak can be difficult to pinpoint. In the absence of frequent testing, bacteria can appear anywhere from showers and pools to drinking fountains and ice machines. In addition, patients and the elderly are groups at highest risk for Legionnaires’ disease, which is especially deadly for those with compromised immune systems. Laws like those recently passed in Queensland are an essential step toward controlling the disease.
Jules Zacher is an attorney in Philadelphia who has tried Legionnaires’ disease cases across the U.S. Please visit LegionnaireLawyer.com again for updates on this story.