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Legionnaire's probe at Pittsburgh VA widening

Dec. 5, 2012 - 08:14AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 5, 2012 - 08:14AM  |  
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PITTSBURGH — The investigation into Legionnaire's disease at Pittsburgh's Veterans Affairs hospitals has widened to claims that some union workers have gotten sick there and the death of a man in October.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously been investigating five cases reported last month, including one patient who died.

A widow said her husband died Oct. 23 after he was diagnosed with Legionnaire's shortly after staying at a VA hospital for heart problems, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that union officials claim three hospital workers have gotten Legionnaire's in the past several weeks.

VA spokesman David Cowgill said he cannot comment on the claims by Evelyn McChesney, of Columbus, Warren County, regarding the death of her husband, John. He also wouldn't comment on claims about the sick workers made by American Federation of Government Employees Local 2028 president Kathi Dahl.

Legionnaire's disease is caused when water tainted with a certain bacteria is inhaled into the lungs. The disease can lead to pneumonia.

Cowgill has confirmed that Pittsburgh VA officials have now found Legionella bacteria in the water supply at its H.J. Heinz Campus, near Aspinwall, and are restricting water use there while the filtration system is treated with chlorine.

The same thing happened last month at the University Drive campus hospital in Pittsburgh's Oakland section, where McChesney, the union workers and the five patients that the VA acknowledged were treated for Legionella had been. Water restrictions at that hospital were lifted Friday after two weeks of chlorination and other cleaning.

One of the five patients who fell ill in November died, according to the Allegheny County Health Department, though the VA is not releasing details, Cowgill said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shineski to report on the outbreak at the Pittsburgh hospital.

McChesney said VA officials have contacted her three times since last week about testing the water at her home.

"I think he got it at the VA," McChesney told the Post-Gazette about her husband's illness. "I don't believe there's anything wrong with my water."

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