BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Although UAB Hospital should have reported a cluster of patients infected with legionella bacteria, the delay did not add to the outbreak in any way, said the state health officer today.
“I want to be very clear,” said Don Williamson with the Alabama Department of Public Health. “This is an obvious tragic situation … But everything we know right now, nobody got legionella, and nobody died because UAB didn’t report this outbreak on May 7.”
Two of nine people infected did die, but the exposure to infections was not believed to have occurred after May 7, Williamson said.
May 7 is the day that UAB said they realized they had an outbreak of legionella in their hematology/oncology unit used by cancer patients and remediation by cleaning the water supply began.
UAB didn’t report the cluster to public health officials — the Jefferson County Department of Health; the Alabama Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, until May 19.
Legionella is a reportable disease which, if a cluster is discovered, is required to be reported to public health authorities within 24 hours. An individual case of legionella is required to be reported within 7 days.
“The fact that they didn’t report the outbreak on May 7 did not contribute to one additional case occurring and not one additional death,” Williamson said.
Williamson said the state was actually getting reports of positive legionella infections, from UAB, or at least its labs, for some time but they didn’t stand out as cluster. In UAB’s defense, Williamson said the hospital was dealing with some very sick people, hard to diagnose a cause of death. And a cluster of legioinella is much easier to identify in hindsight.In fact, from May 7-9, UAB identified the source of the bacteria as the water system on floors 5-7 in the Women’s and Infant building of UAB Hospital and flushed it with 160-degree water, among other remediation techniques.
“Everything we know right now, nobody got legionella, and nobody died because UAB didn’t report this outbreak on May 7.”
Nevertheless, “they should have reported by rule, there’s no argument there.”
The reason behind reporting is to bring in help and expertise, Williamson said.
“We were fortunate in this case, the facility is one of the premier medical centers in the United States,” he said. “They knew internally how to limit the spread of the disease to patients. … If they are going to fail to report, they did the right thing to protect patients by preventing future transmission.”
By: Mike Oliver