A middle-aged patient at Mount Carmel Hospital died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease from the water system, the Times of Malta has learnt.

Although the incident happened several weeks ago, no official statement was issued by the health authorities, and staff members and patients were left in the dark regarding the presence of the bacteria.

Sources said the man, in his 50s, was rushed to Mater Dei Hospital complaining of shortness of breath.  He died in the Intensive Therapy Unit after days battling for his life.

Legionella is normally linked to poorly maintained air-conditioning and water systems and humidifiers.

Sources close to the mental health hospital said it was a well-known fact that the water system at Mount Carmel was “primitive” and seemed “like it belonged to the Middle Ages”.

An investigation found the patient contracted legionella from the showers

“We all know in what conditions the patients here are kept. Even the staff is at risk,” one source said.

The Health Ministry confirmed the discovery of legionella bacteria at the hospital but attempted to minimise alarm by stating that “immediate action had been taken”.

A spokeswoman said the patient was transferred from Mount Carmel to Mater Dei Hospital after suffering shortness of breath and that tests for legionella were positive.

Sources said an internal investigation had concluded that the patient contracted the disease from the showers, but this was not confirmed by the ministry.

“The administration at Mount Carmel Hospital conducted a review of the wards concerned and took immediate action to eliminate any possible source,” the ministry spokeswoman said.

Last year, sections of the new Parliament building in Valletta had to be closed off after legionella bacteria were found during routine tests on the showers.

Earlier this year, traces of legionella were found in the hand basin of a men’s toilet at the President’s Palace in Valletta, which hosted the ministerial meetings during Malta’s presidency of the EU.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by exposure to a bacterium that is found in water and soil. It ranges in severity from a mild influenza-like illness to a serious and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia.

Symptoms include fever, headache, lethargy, muscle pain, diarrhoea and sometimes coughing up blood. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

In most cases, the disease affects people over 50 years of age with weak immune systems or chronic illnesses, smokers and those with a history of heavy drinking. Most people exposed to legionella do not get sick, and the disease does not spread directly between humans.

The public health threat of legionnaires’ disease can be reduced by regular maintenance, cleaning and disinfection of water and air-conditioning systems to minimise the growth of legionella bacteria.

There is no vaccine currently available for legionnaires’ disease.

Source: WHO

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