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Young VA ice machine had low level of Legionnaires' bacteria, VA says

Published Mar. 13, 2015

A "minor presence" of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease was found in an ice machine at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in the same building where a pneumonia patient who tested positive for the bacteria died on Feb. 20, the hospital said Thursday.

A pneumonia patient testing positive for the Legionella pneumophila bacteria is generally considered by health professionals to have Legionnaires' disease. But the VA has avoided saying the patient contracted the disease, instead saying the 64-year-old man died of "medical complications."

Jason Dangel, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, said in releasing the test result that "No other patients have tested positive for the disease" since the first patient died.

Dangel said the VA cannot confirm that the patient was exposed to the bacteria at the hospital. The positive test was one of 13 samples taken in various parts of the hospital after the patient died. Dangel said 11 other tests were negative for the bacteria. One test result is still pending.

He said the amount of bacteria in the ice machine was "4.1 colony-forming units per milliliter." He said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard allows up to 10 colony forming units in potable water. But he said the VA has a zero tolerance for the bacteria.

As a precaution, Dangel said, the VA is moving forward with efforts to cleanse its water system.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia caused by a naturally occurring bacteria that grows best in warm water. It is most commonly found in hot tubs, cooling towers or parts of air-conditioning systems in large buildings. People can become infected by breathing contaminated mist or vapor. But the disease is not spread from person to person.

The Tampa Bay Times has been unable to locate the survivors of the veteran who died, because the VA, citing privacy issues, has not released his name.

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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