New standards for hospital created as a result of Legionnaires outbreak in Queensland

27 October 2014
In June 2013 two patients at Queensland's Wesley Hospital contracted Legionnaires' disease resulting in the death of one patient and the admission to ICU of the other.

By Susan Griffiths, QLD

Testing revealed the source of the infection to be from a shower head and hand basin taps of the patients' rooms.

A number of investigations took place following the outbreak and overall what was revealed was that Queensland had no effective measures, legislative or otherwise, in place for preventing and controlling Legionella infection in such facilities. Most critically there was no requirement for healthcare facilities to regularly test their water systems for the presence of legionella bacteria. This was despite the factors leading to dangerous legionella growth, methods of controlling this growth, and the possible serious consequences of contraction of the infection in healthcare facilities (amongst patients who are often immunocompromised) being well known.

As a result of the outbreak and initial investigations Queensland's Chief Health Officer was asked to undertake a review and prepare a report on the prevention and control of legionella infection in Queensland. This report was handed down on 30 September 2013 and identified a number of areas for improvements that would make for a more robust system-wide approach to preventing and controlling growth of legionella and legionellosis.

As a result of the report private and public healthcare facilities in Queensland must now develop water quality risk management plans which will include periodic testing of their water supplies for Legionella and heterotrophic plate count, based on risk. There are also plans to amend the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) to regulate the design, commissioning, installation, operation and maintenance of cooling water and water delivery systems in hospitals and residential aged care facilities. Proposals have also been made to collaborate nationally to address the gaps that currently exist in standards and guidelines with the aim of developing a single national guidelines for manufactured water systems, to be reviewed periodically.

If the recommendations of the Chief Health Officer are fully implemented it can only be hoped that further outbreaks such as this avoided, and those most at risk of contracting such an infection will be protected.