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Hospital lifts restrictions after bacteria eradicated

Wed., May 18, 2011, 4:55 p.m.

Water restrictions were lifted today at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after successful efforts to eradicate bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease from the hospital’s water supply.

Three patients out of thousands treated so far this year tested positive for the bacteria – two in January and another in April.

The problems prompted hospital officials to restrict showers and drinking water in some buildings. An outside vendor flushed the system with chlorinated water to kill the bacteria.

Follow-up tests found that the treatments worked. The results have been shared with public health officials.

Providence also cleaned and treated its water supply system at Holy Family Hospital as a preemptive safety practice. Other Providence properties also will be tested and the hospital system, acting on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control, is developing plans to prevent another Legionella bacteria problem.

Sacred Heart’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jeff Collins, said in a prepared statement that Providence has not had additional cases but will continue testing the water supply to ensure the treatments were successful.

Legionnaire’s disease is a respiratory condition that can be fatal. It is spread through water mist.

The disease got its name after hundreds of American Legionnaires fell ill with flulike symptoms during a July 1976 convention in Philadelphia. More than 30 died.

Investigators traced the bacteria to the convention hotel’s air conditioning system.

Each year the disease hospitalizes up to 18,000 Americans.

The bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics.

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