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J Hosp Infect. 2005 Apr;59(4):273-9.

Surveillance of hospital water and primary prevention of nosocomial legionellosis: what is the evidence?

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Department of Clinical Microbiology, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.


Hospital-acquired Legionnaires' disease may be sporadic or may occur as part of an outbreak. As Legionella spp. are ubiquitous in many water systems, it is not surprising that hospital water may be colonized with Legionella pneumophila and other species. However, there is some controversy about the relationship between the presence of legionella in hospital water systems and nosocomial legionellosis. Primary prevention, i.e. measures to prevent legionella in a hospital or healthcare facility with no previous documented cases of nosocomial legionellosis, includes heightened awareness of hospital-acquired Legionnaires' disease with appropriate laboratory diagnostic facilities, and ensuring that the water system is well designed and maintained in accordance with national standards, e.g. the circulating hot water is maintained above 55 degrees C. Secondary prevention, i.e. preventing further cases occurring when a case has been confirmed, should include an investigation to exclude the hospital water system as a source. However, the necessity to sample hospital water routinely to detect legionella outside of outbreaks, i.e. as a component of primary prevention, is unclear. Some studies demonstrate a clear link but others do not. Differences between the patient populations studied, the methods of laboratory diagnosis of clinical cases, the analysis of hospital water and differences in the design of hospital water systems may partly explain this. Whilst further research, probably in the form of multi-centred prospective trials, is needed to confirm the relationship between environmental legionella and hospital-acquired legionellosis, including establishing the relative importance of L. pneumophila group 1 vs. non-group 1 and other Legionella spp., each hospital should consider the spectrum of patients at particular risk locally. Centres with transplant units or other patients with significant immunosuppression should, in the interim, consider routine sampling for legionella in hospital water in addition to other control measures. Therefore, infection control teams must work closely with hospital engineering and technical services departments and hospital management, as well as ensuring that physicians and others have a heightened awareness of hospital-acquired legionellosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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