CDC was forced to correct journal article about Pittsburgh VA Legionnaires’ outbreak

[EXCERPT FROM THE PITTSBURH POST-GAZETTE; Sean D. or 412-263-2579 or Twitter: @SeanDHamill.]

The new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy on Tuesday afternoon that she would “look into” why the CDC had to correct a journal article about the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Heatlhcare System.

That promise from Brenda Fitzgerald, the former head of the Georgia Department of Public Health who was just appointed to the CDC on July 7, came after Mr. Murphy gave her a copy of the Post-Gazette’s July 23 article that examined why the CDC corrected the journal article — a rare and embarrassing move for researchers.

“The first thing I did was hand her [the Post-Gazette’s] latest article,” Mr. Murphy said in a phone interview after the meeting. “She told me she’s going to look into this.”

Dr. Fitzgerald told Mr. Murphy she was unfamiliar with the issue, but Mr. Murphy explained that it was an important issue that deserved additional attention.

The CDC was forced to make a correction to the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal article last month after the Post-Gazette ran a two-part series in December about the CDC’s investigation and reporting of the outbreak.

The Post-Gazette’s stories demonstrated that the CDC’s investigators and leaders held biases before they began the 2012 investigation of the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA. The outbreak sickened 22 veterans and led to the deaths of six of them. Those biases led to questionable investigation techniques and alteration of data in the journal article from what was originally discovered during the investigation.

“This is a huge breach of science [in an outbreak] that led to deaths,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview Tuesday.

The investigators and leaders openly expressed bias against the copper-silver ionization system that the Pittsburgh VA used to combat Legionella in its water, as well as bias against two former VA researchers who are experts on Legionnaires’, Victor Yu and Janet Stout.