Residents at Frederick’s Country Meadows Retirement Community can drink from taps again after a test came back showing no trace of Legionella bacterium in the water system.
Kelly Kuntz, executive director of communications for Country Meadows, said Friday that efforts to clear out the system after a resident was recently diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease were successful. Initial tests of the system turned up very low levels of Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, prompting a full-on chlorination effort.
“The chlorination process worked and our water is clear,” Kuntz said.
The resident, who was not named, returned to the community from Frederick Memorial Hospital in late January, became ill with pneumonia and tested positive for Legionella. The resident was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, which prompted the testing and treating of the water system. On Friday, Kuntz did not know the resident’s condition.
Residents were restricted from drinking from their taps or bathing in the water until the final test results came back clean at the beginning of the week. Officials trucked in cases of bottled water while the restrictions were in place and installed new shower heads that filtered the water.
Kuntz said community executives are continuing to look at improvements to safeguard residents from the bacterium in the future.
“We are still looking at systems to install to prevent this from happening again,” she said.
According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Legionnaires’ disease causes pneumonia that can sometimes be severe and lead to death. More serious illness tends to occur in men older than 50, smokers, and people with diabetes, chronic lung disease or kidney disease. People with an underlying cancer or immune system problem may also be at increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
Melissa Lambdin, Frederick Memorial Hospital’s marketing and communications director, emailed a statement Wednesday from the hospital’s infection control team in response to questions about the Country Meadows resident.
The statement said the hospital does not currently have any patients with Legionnaires’ disease and officials could not speak about any specific patients. It said the hospital has a Legionella control plan that includes ongoing treatment of the water system throughout the facility, as well as regular testing of the water supply.
Because Legionella usually spreads through water droplets in the air, the hospital “utilizes several environmental controls to prevent aerosolization of water droplets,” the statement said.
The statement said that when the hospital receives a positive test on a patient for Legionnaires’ disease, the protocol is to immediately notify the Frederick County Health Department, which tracks cases.
Darlene Armacost, the program manager of communicable disease and preparedness for the health department, wrote in an email that the county has had 58 confirmed cases of Legionella since 2006. Of those cases, there was one death. She said she could not say if that person was living in a congregate living situation.
Kuntz confirmed that one prior case was at Country Meadows. She said sometime around last July, officials received word that a resident tested positive for Legionella in a situation like the diagnosis last month. She said that when officials tested the water, they found hardly a trace of Legionella and no other residents became ill.
Armacost added in the email that the majority of cases of Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease do not occur in nursing facilities or retirement communities. The disease strikes people who live in private homes, but is not necessarily contracted in the home environment.
Legionella is found in soil and grows naturally in water in places such as air conditioning ducts, storage tanks and rivers.