The positive Legionella bacteria results at three hospitals in the central west are nothing new, according to the region’s Hospital and Health Service executive director, medical services, David Rimmer.
The three facilities found to be affected during routine quarterly water testing were the inpatient facilities at the Alpha and Barcaldine multipurpose health services and the Blackall Hospital.
Dr Rimmer said the bacteria, which occur naturally and are widely distributed in the environment, have been found in hospitals in the west ever since testing began around two years ago.
Legionella is often associated with air-conditioner units in high rise business and apartment blocks, and while the the affected premises in western Queensland are mostly single story, water cooling practices are the culprit once again.
According to CWHHS chief executive, Jane Hancock, the issue for many of the rural health facilities was that town water supplies were often sourced from hot bore water, which was then passed through tanks to cool before distribution.
“It is this cooling process that provides a good environment in which the Legionella bacteria can establish themselves and grow,’’ she said. “In addition, bore water-sourced municipal supplies in many rural areas may not be chlorinated, which also provides opportunity for Legionella bacteria to establish themselves.’’
Dr Rimmer said the service had to deal with town water as it was presented to them for use, adding that they went through a process of flushing their pipes but some old systems had “dead legs” where water could get trapped.
The Blackall Hospital is 80 years old and has been slated for replacement for at least five years, with sections condemned for rotting timberwork and asbestos.
Dr Rimmer said the CWHHS went through stages where it wouldn’t detect any of the harmful bacteria but it would be likely to expect a spike each summer.
“We’re being open – it’s there, it’s business as usual, and we’re treating it,” he said.
Ms Hancock said immediate action was taken at the three centres in accordance with the health service’s Water Quality Risk Management Plan and advice from the Central Queensland Public Health Unit at Rockhampton.
“Affected locations at each site include a number of showerheads and basin taps,’’ she said.
“As part of our standard procedure, as soon as a positive Legionella detection has been recorded we attach a special temporary micro filter to the showerhead or tap, which filters out all the bacteria.
“This allows us to continue using the showers and taps without any risk to patients and staff, while we flush and clean the system and retest the affected areas.
“Once retesting has shown the affected areas are clear of Legionella bacteria, we remove the temporary filters, replace the showerheads and tapware with new ones and return to normal.’’
Ms Hancock said no patient or other clinical services had been affected at any of the three facilities and no patients or staff were at risk.
Neither the Longreach Hospital nor the Winton MPHS recorded positive results during the latest testing round.
Ms Hancock said a positive Legionella detection didn’t automatically equate to a health risk.
“The risks for staff, patients and visitors are low as the Legionella bacteria must be inhaled in the form of water droplets to have any chance of being infectious.
“It is generally only those people that are particularly vulnerable, sick or immune-compromised who are susceptible to infection.’’
Information about Legionella bacteria and risk can be found here.