Legionella scare hits Mareeba Hospital


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Traces of the dangerous legionella bacteria have been found at Mareeba Hospital after a routine water inspection.

ROUTINE water quality testing at Mareeba Hospital has returned low level positive results for Legionella bacteria.

The affected areas have been isolated and treated, and clinical services at Mareeba have not been affected.

Tropical Public Health (Cairns) Director Dr Richard Gair said immediate action had been taken in accordance with the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service’s Water Quality Risk Management Plan as soon as the positive results were received.

“We follow strict regulations and a rigorous testing and treatment program. As part of our water quality testing we take more than 450 samples per quarter over our nine hospital facilities and this is the first detection since proactive sampling began in 2015,” Dr Gair said.

“We test for extremely low levels as part of state-wide guidelines and occasional positive results at low levels are not unexpected, as the legionella bacteria is commonly found in water.

“Though we haven’t had any notifications of hospital-acquired legionella infection in Far North Queensland on record, our priority is to ensure high quality patient care.

“The affected water systems, which related to two hand basin taps, a shower head and an outside tap, were immediately treated according to standard protocols for removing the Legionella bacteria,” Dr Gair said.

The affected areas will be re-tested and samples will be sent off for analysis. These areas will not be used until testing has shown the Legionella bacteria have been cleared.

“Patients have access to areas that have not been impacted and they will be able to continue using these,’’ he said.

A positive result was recently found in a non-clinical location in Atherton Hospital and is also being treated.

Infectious Diseases Physician Dr Trent Yarwood said Legionella is a bacteria that is found commonly in water and becomes a concern when small droplets of water are inhaled by people who have reduced immunity, chronic conditions and the elderly.

“It would be an extremely rare occurrence for exposure from such a low level reading to develop into a legionella infection,” he said.