The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System on Thursday confirmed another case of Legionnaires’ disease, making it the fifth case tied to an outbreak of the pneumonia-like infection that was spread through the water system at its University Drive Hospital in Oakland.
Legionnaires’ cases are not unheard of in Western Pennsylvania. But the location of this outbreak has grabbed the attention of the medical community because it is the same hospital that used to be home to Victor Yu and Janet Stout, researchers who made many landmark findings about the disease — including the 1982 discovery that tied the spread of the disease to water systems.
“It is surprising,” said Norman Moore, director of scientific affairs for Maine health products manufacturer Alere Inc. and a Legionnaires’ researcher for 17 years. “They’re the ones who put together how to find Legionnaires’ with testing and other discoveries.”
Dr. Stout and Dr. Yu also contend that the outbreak could have been avoided if the VA had better monitored its copper-silver ionization system, a water disinfection method first installed at the University Drive hospital in 1993 specifically to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.
“The system wasn’t performing optimally because it wasn’t being managed properly,” said Dr. Stout, a Legionnaires’ expert who used to work in the VA’s laboratory and resigned in 2007 in a dispute with VA’s management. Dr. Yu was ousted in 2006 by the VA in that dispute. “I don’t take it lightly that veterans at the VA have been harmed needlessly,” she said. “It’s very preventable.”