Investigation continues into Legionnaires' Disease death


Management at Waterford Regional Hospital said yesterday that they were treating the death of a woman from Legionnaires' Disease as as an "isolated case" but would continue to monitor the situation closely. An investigation continues in a bid to ascertain how the dead woman contracted the disease, it said.

The middle-aged woman died after she had apparently contracted the pneumonia- like disease while a patient at the hospital.

Among those monitoring the situation at yesterday afternoon was Mr Séamus Ryan, chairman of the South Eastern Health Board.

"This is obviously a serious cause for concern but I remain confident that all that can be done to contain the outbreak is being done. I believe this originated within the hospital and this of course is a worry. I have been in touch with management and they say this is an isolated matter and is being contained. They say they have the situation under control.

"They've isolated where the patient was and say there is no danger to patients and visitors to the hospital. I'm confident that the staff and management at WRH will take every precaution to ensure the safety of everyone in their care."

Mr Ryan, a Labour member of Waterford City Council, also offered his condolences to the dead woman's family.

The National Disease Surveillance Centre has also been informed with sources there saying that there are generally about six cases of the disease in Ireland each year, with a one-in-10 chance of fatality.

The bacterium responsible for Legionnaire's Disease belongs to the genus legionella.

There are approximately 35 legionella species known to produce the disease and these are commonly found in any aquatic environment. They can survive for several months in a wet environment and multiply in the presence of algae and organic matter.

Scientists do not fully understand how the disease is transmitted.

The normal presence of legionella in water and soil is not automatically associated with an outbreak of the disease and it appears that the legionella microbe must reach the lungs in order to produce the disease. Inhalation of small particles of contaminated water or soil seems to be the key.

Evidence of person-to-person transmission has not been found. Therefore, attention has focused on the spread of legionella through building ventilation systems.

When the circulated air picks up droplets of contaminated water, the bacteria can be transported throughout a building. If the droplets are small enough, they can be inhaled, thus providing a way for the bacteria to enter the lung.