• SPL's Interactive Workshop for Healthcare Promotes Collaboration

    April 29, 2019

    Special Pathogens Laboratory to Host Conference Designed to Promote Shared Knowledge and Foster Communication Among Water Management Teams

    Pittsburgh, Pa. (April 29 2019) —Special Pathogens Laboratory will host Puzzled by Legionella and Waterborne  Pathogens? A Solutions Workshop for Healthcare at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

    Managing risk from Legionella and waterborne pathogens requires effective team communication. Compliance with regulations can be challenging when water management teams comprise members across an organization with different responsibilities and priorities.

    This workshop promotes an environment that fosters mutual understanding of the risk for Legionella in building water systems and provides evidence-based solutions.

    Lectures and hands-on learning stations lay the foundation for continued multidisciplinary collaboration. Participates will share a first-hand look through the microscope at Legionella and other waterborne pathogens; learn about plumbing materials and corrosion; see how a model cooling tower operates; and understand controlling risk in ice machines.

“The demand for this workshop grew out of the need for mutual understanding and effective communication across the organization,” says Dr. Janet Stout, president of Special Pathogens Laboratory. “We’re excited to offer this unique educational experience because it takes a team to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.”

    Designed for healthcare and long-term care administrators, risk managers, infection prevention professionals, facilities managers and engineers, conference highlights include:

    • Speakers from microbiology, engineering, infection prevention, and public health
    • Regulatory and compliance requirements from local and state New York health officials
    • Developing ASHRAE water management plans 
    • Ins and outs of CMS inspections
    • Four Nursing CEUs  

    Bring a colleague from your organization for free! See details on registration page

  • Infection Preventionists Lead the Team!

    October 19, 2018

    Infection preventionists are the leaders of the overall efforts to prevent healthcare-association infections within a healthcare facility. As the leader, the infection preventionist has many roles including educator, collaborator, liaison, consultant, evaluator and subject matter expert.

    Working as an infection preventionist, I learned all these roles included responsibilities related to prevention of Legionella and other waterborne pathogen infections. I was responsible for coordinating and collecting water samples for Legionella as part of a proactive environmental testing program and interpreting and reporting those results. I provided support to our local health department, as a liaison, when a patient’s test results were determined positive for Legionella. I served as a subject matter expert on our water safety team, new products committee and construction and renovation meetings sharing my expertise to protect patients, visitors and staff from exposure to Legionella and other waterborne pathogens.

    My experience on our facility’s water management team taught me that It is essential that all members team are willing to work together to achieve the goal of ensuring the safety of the facility’s water system. The multidisciplinary team should include members with expertise in infection prevention, facilities management, microbiology, accreditation standards and licensing requirements, and risk management. As per the CDC, you may need to train your in-house personnel or hire professionals with specific experience in Legionella in building water systems. The team should cultivate open communication and respect each team members expertise.

    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC
    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC

    Laura Morris is the education coordinator at Special Pathogens Laboratory. Certified in infection professional since 2009, Morris most recently served as senior infection preventionist at St. Clair Hosptial (Pittsburgh). She has more than five years experience in microbiology research in Legionella. An active member of the Three Rivers Pittsburgh Chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and has served on the chapter’s board of directors for eight years. 

  • 6 Infection Prevention Tips

    October 17, 2018

    International Infection Prevention week is a week to highlight the role of infection prevention plays in patient safety. Infection prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

    Did you know there are things each one of us can do to prevent the spread of infection in healthcare facilities and in the community?

    1. Practice good hand hygiene using soap and water or alcohol hand-rubs after touching something that is dirty, especially before preparing food and eating
    2. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
    3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
    4. Get your flu shot each year
    5. Stay home from work, school and other crowded places when you are sick
    6. Take antibiotics only when necessary for bacterial infections, prescribed by a medical provider. If prescribed, take antibiotics exactly how they are prescribed.

    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC
    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC

    Laura Morris is the education coordinator at Special Pathogens Laboratory. Certified in infection professional since 2009, Morris most recently served as senior infection preventionist at St. Clair Hosptial (Pittsburgh). She has more than five years experience in microbiology research in Legionella. An active member of the Three Rivers Pittsburgh Chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and has served on the chapter’s board of directors for eight years. 

  • Celebrating International Infection Prevention Week, Protecting Patients Everywhere

    October 13, 2018



    October 14-20, 2018 is International Infection Prevention Week (IIPW). Established in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, IIPW is a week to highlight the role infection prevention plays in patient safety. This year’s theme is Protecting Patients Everywhere.

    Did you know that Infection preventionists (IPs) are healthcare professionals whose mission is to prevent healthcare-associated infections? Their job is to protect patients, visitors, volunteers, employees and healthcare providers from healthcare-associated infections. IPs wear many hats. Their responsibilities include: surveillance of healthcare-associated infections; patients, staff and visitor education; and serving as subject matter experts on hospital committees.  

    IPs Essential in Preventing Waterborne Infections
    At SPL, our mission is to prevent illnesses caused by Legionella and waterborne pathogens—especially in healthcare facilities due to the high mortality rate. Toward that end, IPs are essential. Here is a list of  just a few things IPs do to keep you safe:

    • Serve as a key member on the facility water management team to ensure that the facility’s water management program is effective in keeping patients safe from infections due to waterborne pathogens; 
    • Perform surveillance for healthcare-associated waterborne pathogen infections.  
    • Oversee or collect water samples for proactive testing for Legionella;
    • Work with local and state health department officials to investigate outbreak and cases of Legionnaires’ disease;
    • Provide subject matter expertise to committees dealing with construction and products to prevent the installation of equipment and structures that increase risk for Legionella and other waterborne pathogens. 

    How Can You Promote Infection Prevention? 
    Ask your healthcare administrators if they regularly test their water systems for Legionella and waterborne pathogens.

    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC
    Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC

    Laura Morris is the education coordinator at Special Pathogens Laboratory. Certified in infection professional since 2009, Morris most recently served as senior infection preventionist at St. Clair Hosptial (Pittsburgh). She has more than five years experience in microbiology research in Legionella. An active member of the Three Rivers Pittsburgh Chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and has served on the chapter’s board of directors for eight years. 


  • Puzzled by Legionella and Waterborne Pathogens?

    June 26, 2018

  • IPs Respond to CMS Legionella Directive

    April 27, 2018

    Almost a year has passed since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a compliance memorandum telling healthcare systems to perform risk assessments and implement water safety programs to prevent patients from acquiring Legionnaires’ disease (LD).

    It’s making a difference in terms of infection preventionists putting Legionella on their radar and hospitals seeking testing and risk assessment advice, says Janet Stout, PhD, president of the Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

    She predicted as much last year after the CMS memo was issued right before the annual APIC conference, turning Stout’s relatively pedestrian Legionella presentation into “must-see” IC.

    Facing a packed crowd seeking compliance guidance, Stout finally was no longer a voice in the wilderness.

    After investigating LD since that first, titular outbreak in 1976 at a Legionnaires’ convention in Philadelphia, Stout was ready to share a wealth of accumulated information.

    “When I speak at something like that — there are also other sessions going on — I expect something like 50 or 100 people,” she says. “It was standing room only. There must have been 500 to 600 people there. That was a dramatic visual depiction of the impact of the CMS memorandum. When CMS speaks, every healthcare facility listens.”

    The CMS outlined the situation in no uncertain terms. The compliance directive was needed because a review of the increasing number of LD outbreaks in 2000-2014 showed that 15% were in hospitals and 19% in long-term care.

    “The CMS expects Medicare-certified healthcare facilities to have water management policies and procedures to reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in building water systems,” the agency emphasized.1

    Primarily caused by Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, LD outbreaks in healthcare are typically traced to the waterborne bug becoming aerosolized and inhaled in shower mist. Faucets, spas and baths, cooling towers, decorative fountains, and medical equipment also have been implicated.

    Hospital Infection Control & Prevention asked Stout to update the situation in the following interview.

    There is no reason to be afraid to evaluate the presence of Legionella. What gets people stuck is that they believe for some reason that you can completely eliminate a naturally occurring bacteria from complex water systems in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

    You can’t. You can control it, which is sufficient to manage or prevent disease. That is the “zero” worth looking for. We are looking for zero cases of LD, not zero bacteria.

    HIC: While there often is resistance to regulation in clinical settings, you have made the case that this CMS action is a good thing.

    Stout: When the memorandum came out last year, I emailed the contact person and said, “Congratulations on doing something that will dramatically move the prevention of healthcare-acquired LD forward — forward in a way that will be much more substantive than the ASHRAE standard that came out in 2015, or even the CDC water management toolkit.

    First of all, the CMS memo was short and to the point. You must have a risk assessment and water management plan to address the risk of Legionella in your facility, and you need to have measures that demonstrate control, including testing for pathogens like Legionella.

    HIC: Legionella has come to national attention following outbreaks, but subsequently fades back again. Will this regulatory aspect finally set prevention as a priority?

    Stout: The only caveat I will say is that it has the potential to dramatically reduce healthcare-acquired LD. In the Special Pathogens Lab, we do the testing for Legionella and other organisms, and do consultations to help people comply with CMS and other standards.

    We have seen a dramatic uptick in requests for testing, risk assessments, and water management plans. Usually with these things there are early adopters, people in the middle, and later adopters. With ASHRAE, even though it was an industry best practice, it was still a voluntary standard. CMS is not voluntary.

  • ASHRAE Legionella Guideline 12 in Public Review until September 11

    August 15, 2017

    The deadline for comments on revisions to ASHRAE Guideline 12, Minimizing the Risk of Legionellosis Associated with Building Water Systems, is Monday, September 11.

    Guideline 12 provides practical information on controlling Legionella and implementing ANSI/ ASHRAE 188, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. Like ASHRAE 188, it is for building owners of human-occupied buildings and those involved in design, construction, installation, commissioning, management, operation, maintenance and service of centralized building water systems and components. To learn more, see ASHRAE's news release

    Download the proposed revised guideline here. Your input is critical to making this an accurate and user-friendly guideline. Your knowledge and experience will make a difference! 

  • Bacterial infection tied to heart surgery device

    August 08, 2017

    At 74, Bob Marks is grateful to be alive after collapsing at his Hempfield home last summer with an aortic dissection, a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of his heart. 

    Marks, a retired Lutheran pastor and registered nurse, said he's thankful for the flight team that got him to the hospital and the surgeons who saved his life at Allegheny General Hospital. 

    But he's begun to wonder whether the myriad complications that plagued his recovery — fatigue, night sweats, pneumonia, influenza and shingles — could be related to a rare form of bacteria called non-tuberculous mycobacterium, or NTM, found in heater-cooler devices used in open-heart surgery in about 60 percent of U.S. hospitals. The devices in question are known as Stockert 3T units....

    ...The case linking the rare infection to a specific device has been emerging for years in a medical detective saga spanning three continents. 

    Experts now believe NTM finds its way into operating suites when water in an internal tank in the device becomes contaminated. Although the water never comes into direct contact with patients, droplets can work their way into the internal workings of the device, be picked up by a fan, dispersed into the air and land on the patient undergoing surgery. 

    The trail that culminated in the latest warnings began with anecdotal reports of the rare infection out of Western Europe about a decade ago. In 2015, WellSpan York Hospital in Eastern Pennsylvania became the first U.S. hospital to identify such infections among patients who had undergone open-heart surgery there....

    ...Things reached critical mass this year with the release of a new study from the Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh that found NTM in 33 of 89 units from 23 hospitals in 14 states; Washington, D.C.; and Canada sampled from July 2015 through March 2017. The lab, one of a handful in the United States that specializes in water-borne pathogens, also found four of the units colonized for Legionella, the bacteria associated with Legionnaire's Disease. 

    John Rhis, a microbiologist who is vice president of Laboratory Services at Special Pathogens Laboratory, made headlines in June when he released his findings at the national conference of the Association for Infection Control and Prevention. 

    “If the unit was responsible for contamination with (NTM), it makes sense that these other organisms were contaminating the sterile field as well,” Rhis said. 

    “I was shocked at the level of contamination we found. About 15 percent of the samples we tested were so heavily contaminated with bacterial or fungal overgrowth that they were uninterpretable. So, the actual number of positive tests might have been higher,” he said. 

    Rhis said the NTM infections are so rare that many hospitals would never have tested for it. 

    “That's why it took so long for this to be worked out. It's an unusual pathogen, and it's pretty amazing that the link was even made,” he said.

    (Excerpt from TribLive)

  • Legionnaires' disease cases spike 143% in Michigan

    August 07, 2017

    Health officials across the state are trying to determine what's causing a 143% increase in cases of Legionnaires' disease, a respiratory infection that can be deadly, especially for people with weak immune systems.

    "In the warm months, there is an increase in Legionnaires'," said Jennifer Eisner of the Michigan Department of Community Health. "At this point, no common source has been identified."

    In June and July, 73 cases were confirmed. In the past three years, the average number of cases during those months was 30....

    ...Legionnaires' became an issue in the Flint water crisis. State health officials confirmed 91 cases, including 12 deaths, from the disease in Genesee County in a 17-month period in 2014-15. The cases spiked after the city switched its water source from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April 2014.

    Janet Stout, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering who has 30 years of experience studying the disease, concluded the problems with Flint's water were related to the increase in Legionnaires' cases — although she can't prove it. “It is like an emperor’s new clothes situation,” Stout told the Free Press last year. “Somebody has to say it.”

    She said it's a "reasonable conclusion," given the link between poor water quality and Legionnaires' disease in scientific studies done elsewhere.

    (Excerpt from Detroit Free Press)

  • Correction due: CDC must own data error in VA water case

    August 02, 2017

    July 30, 2017 12:00 AM By the Editorial Board / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Responsible for protecting us from threats and curing what ails us, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a public respect accorded few other federal agencies. Sadly, the CDC betrayed the public trust by obfuscating data in a 2015 journal article on an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System. CDC officials corrected the article nearly two years later only after the Post-Gazette’s Sean D. Hamill exposed their shenanigans and the journal’s editor, Robert Schooley, pursued the correction.

    The manipulation of data is a reprehensible breach of scientific ethics. The CDC should be contrite. Instead, it’s defiant, acknowledging a “small data error” in its findings — as if two numbers had been innocently transposed — while insisting that the misrepresentation had no effect on the article’s conclusions. The real conclusions to be drawn here relate to the agency’s broken culture, with has permitted lapses in judgment to multiply like bacteria in a petri dish.

    Dr. Schooley, the editor of Clinical Infectious Diseases, and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, understand the significance of the CDC’s wayward behavior. Dr. Schooley has called the article’s language “misleading” and the correction “a big deal.” Mr. Murphy, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, gave Mr. Hamill’s July 23 story on the belated correction to new CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald and told her it deserved attention. According to Mr. Murphy, Dr. Fitzgerald agreed to look into it.

    Six veterans died from the 2011-12 Legionnaire’s outbreak in the VA hospital’s water, and 16 others were seriously sickened. In December, Mr. Hamill reported that CDC official appeared less interested in determining the true cause of the outbreak than in using the tragedy to discredit the water disinfection system there and two former VA researchers who had championed it. The bias carried over into the journal article, which said the disinfection system failed to kill the Legionella bacteria “within” 24 hours but failed to note that the data also revealed success “at” the 24-hour mark. 

    In its own investigation, the VA’s inspector general faulted maintenance of the disinfection system, not the system itself. 

    In December, after the CDC’s misconduct came to light, Mr. Murphy and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. asked the CDC to conduct an internal review. Months later, the CDC acknowledged a “small data error,” cited the correction in the journal and, demonstrating an unscientific aversion to further inquiry, pronounced the matter “closed.”

    The CDC has layered one misdeed upon another. It sullied the investigation of a fatal disease outbreak, misrepresented its findings in a professional journal and tried to evade accountability for its misdeeds. When articles are inaccurate, scientists should rush to correct them, knowing that the public and other researchers rely on their findings. In this case, Dr. Schooley said he had to approach the agency about a correction, which appeared in the journal’s June issue. 

    Dr. Fitzgerald would be wise to heed Mr. Murphy’s advice.  The CDC needs to be put under a microscope.