McGuire

Despite finding legionella bacteria, officials said the health of patients and staff at Richmond’s McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center is not at risk.

A cooling system at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in South Richmond recently tested positive for Legionella bacteria, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

David Hodge, the acting public affairs officer for the Central Virginia VA Health Care System, said the bacteria were discovered after a quarterly test of water systems at the facility.

“We sampled water from all clinical locations on campus and found zero samples that tested positive for the Legionella,” he said. “The positive result came from a separate water system used for the facility cooling towers, which are located away from clinical areas.”

Hodge said the problem has been remediated and that no patients or hospital staff developed Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia that’s caused by exposure to the bacteria.

“This occurrence does not constitute a risk to patients or employees,” he said.

Health officials in Chesterfield County earlier this year reported an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella bacteria were also discovered at several county schools, as well as at Johnston-Willis Hospital on Midlothian Turnpike and other locations.

Melissa Viray, deputy director of Henrico County’s and Richmond’s health districts, said her office has received a large number of inquiries about Legionella bacteria in recent months.

“We’ve been fielding questions about testing for it because people are worried,” she said. “I certainly hope that the increased concern will lead to better maintenance of water systems.”

Legionella bacteria, which naturally occur in lakes and streams, become a health concern when they aerosolize and enter water systems such as cooling towers, which provide air conditioning, or into decorative fountains and hot tubs.

Legionnaires’ disease is usually spread when people breathe in mist or spray containing the bacteria. Symptoms can include high fever, chills and a cough that occurs within two to 10 days of exposure.

Viray said it’s not uncommon for small samples of Legionella bacteria to show up in tests of cooling towers at public facilities such as schools and hospitals.

She said public agencies are generally not required to report simply finding the bacteria.

Viray said there have been no reports of an outbreak or cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in Richmond or Henrico.

csuarez@timesdispatch.com(804) 649-6178

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