The Wesley Hospital.
The Wesley Hospital. Australian Traffic Network

Legionnaire's outbreak came from water taps, pipes: hospital

UPDATE 5pm: The hospital at the centre of a Legionnaire's Disease outbreak is confident the deadly infection came from the hospital's water taps and pipes, which have never been tested for Legionella bacteria.

Queensland Health's chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young revealed at a press conference this afternoon it was the first time a Queensland hospital had experienced an outbreak of two cases of the pneumonia-like disease.

A 60 year old patient undergoing cancer treatment in Brisbane's Wesley Hospital was diagnosed with the disease last week and died on Sunday.

Another cancer patient, undergoing treatment in another area of the hospital, was diagnosed with the infectious disease this week.

Hospital officials confirmed this afternoon the woman was in stable condition in the intensive care unit and had shown signs of improvement.

Uniting Care Health executive director Richard Royle confirmed Legionella bacteria were found in water pipes in one part of the hospital.

He said while the cooling towers for the air-conditioning system were tested for Legionella bacteria frequently, the water pipes and taps had never been tested.

"We are taking no chance in making sure all the plumbing and infrastructure our patients have access to are tested adequately and treated methodically," he said.

Patients will not be able to have showers until test results come back showing no more traces of the bacteria, which Mr Royal expects could be next week.

About 10-12 patients who were exposed to the bacteria have tested negative to Legionnaire's Disease but the hospital confirmed it was prepared for the possibility of more cases.


EARLIER: Every public hospital in Queensland will test their water supplies for bacteria connected to legionnaires' disease after the fatal illness killed one patient and left another in intensive care in Brisbane.

All surgeries at the Wesley Hospital, in Brisbane's Auchenflower, were cancelled on Wednesday and the emergency department closed after an outbreak of the deadly disease.

A 60-year-old cancer patient who was receiving treatment in the hospital's east block contracted the pneumonia-type disease last week.

Following his subsequent death on Sunday, another patient receiving cancer treatment in the hospital's west wing, was diagnosed with legionnaires' disease.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg told Queensland Parliament the 46 year old was in intensive care and "increasingly unwell".

Health officials initially discovered legionella bacteria in the Wesley Hospital's water pipes in the east block.

Mr Springborg said there had been recent workplace and health changes requiring health authorities worldwide to lower the temperature in hot water systems to protect people from burns.

"As a consequence of that, it becomes more likely that bacteria can survive in the pipes," he said.

The Wesley Hospital has closed its doors to all new patients and has started testing current and past patients for symptoms.

Water access was cut off and wash kits were handed out on Thursday.

Mr Springborg revealed 1400 former patients and 480 current patients could have been exposed to the bacteria.
"A total of 2300 Wesley staff have also been informed," he said.

Mr Springborg said health officials were working to find the source of the infection and all other public hospitals would carry out testing as a precaution.

"...I have instructed the director-general of Queensland Health, Dr Tony O'Connell, to ensure that as a precautionary measure tests of water supplies to all our public hospitals are conducted this week, even though there is no evidence such a problem has arisen in this way ever before," he said.

"I encourage all other hospital operators in the state to do likewise to ensure public confidence is sustained."



What it is:

  • Caused by the legionella bacteria, commonly found in creeks, ponds and soil.
  • Rare in people under 20 years, with those over 50 years old who smoke or have a weak immune system particularly susceptible.


  • Non-specific flu-like symptoms including fever, headache and muscle aches, developing within a week of breathing in the bacteria.
  • Usually progresses rapidly with pneumonia symptoms, high fever, shortness of breath and chest pain typical.


  • A person with the disease usually needs to be admitted to hospital for antibiotic treatment and care.
  • Early diagnosis and antibiotic treatment important, and those treated usually begin to improve with three to five days.

*Source: Queensland Department of Health, 2013. Not to be taken as professional medical advice.


Second patient ill from legionnaires' disease at Wesley

A WOMAN is in intensive care after becoming the second patient at a Brisbane hospital to contract the potentially deadly legionnaires' disease.

A 60-year-old man died on Sunday after contracting the disease at the Wesley Hospital, which has since cancelled all admissions and closed its emergency department.

More than 3000 hospital staff and patients may have been exposed to the potentially deadly Legionella bacteria.

UnitingCare Health executive director Richard Royle says the situation is ''extraordinary and unprecedented".

The man, who was being treated for cancer and a variety of other health problems, is believed to have contracted the disease from warm bath water.

All admissions and surgical procedures at the Wesley Hospital have been cancelled until further notice, and staff have been contacting all 240 patients who have been discharged from the east wing since May 25.

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