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Sen. Casey criticizes Pittsburgh VA over Legionnaires' outbreak

An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh VA hospital earlier in November has drawn the attention of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. In a letter to the head of Veterans Affairs, Sen. Casey called the spread of the potentially deadly illness "preventable" and accused officials at the hospital of failing to keep the water at the facility properly purified. Critics have said that the VA knew it was putting patients at risk as early as June but did not correct a problem with the water system until learning about the outbreak.

The hospital where the Legionnaires' bacteria surfaced is called the VA University Drive Hospital. Administrators have acknowledged five cases of Legionnaires' infection among patients. Four of the patients have since recovered, but officials have not updated information about the fifth, suggesting that he or she could still be ill as of Nov. 28.

Legionnaires' disease can cause flu-like symptoms and is potentially fatal. It is often contracted through bacteria in unclean water particles. According to two former Pittsburgh VA physicians, officials at the hospital showed an outside consultant the results of a test that showed that copper and silver readings were at the wrong levels in June. A copper-silver ionization system is used to kill Legionnaires' disease. However, the hospital did not adjust the metal levels until October.

In his letter, Sen. Casey called it "a true disservice" to veterans to expose them to illness while they are receiving medical care. With Legionnaires' having a 14-day gestation period before symptoms emerge, further cases could arise in the coming days.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Sen. Casey: Legionnaires' disease outbreak at Pittsburgh veterans hospital 'preventable'," Sean D. Hamil, Nov. 28, 2012

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