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Recent Legionnaire’s Outbreak Matches 1982 Strain

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Harold Hayes Harold Hayes
Harold Hayes joined KDKA-TV in August of 1979 as a general assignment...
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CBS Pittsburgh (con't)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The latest family to wonder what the VA knew and when they knew it is the family of 74-year-old Clark Compston.

Compston’s family told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette they were told he contracted Legionnaire’s while a patient at the VA hospital. However, Compston’s death certificate lists lung cancer as the cause of death with no mention of Legionnaire’s and the family is left to wonder whether if he might have had more time.

Sandy Riley of Swissvale also said Monday night that she believed her brother, 65-year-old Mitch Wanstreet of Jeannette would be alive today, had he not come in contact with the Legionella bacteria while at the Oakland VA hospital last summer.

Wanstreet died in July, about 10 days after being admitted first to the VA facility in Aspinwall, then being transferred to Oakland.

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“I didn’t know about the other patients who had died, if they [the VA] had done something earlier, my brother could have been alive today,” Riley said.

Riley said the death certain for her brother said – cause of death was Legionella.

Dr. Janet Stout, who at one time worked for the VA, is not surprised more and more families have questions.

“I think what we’ve learned from the CDC report and the congressional hearing is somewhat the tip of the iceberg,” said Stout.

Nor is she surprised by a Centers for Disease Control report that says Legionella found in the hospital in 1982 is “almost identical” to the Legionella found in this outbreak.

“This bacteria, Legionella, is in our water system,” she said. “Once it’s in the system, you control it, so you need to be ever vigilant. So it’s not surprising to me that our strain that we isolated from the Pittsburgh VA in 1982, a similar one is still there today.”

That report was released during this month’s congressional hearing. A report that theorized even an outdoor fountain at the Oakland facility could have helped spread it. And administrators were pressed for ways to avoid the outbreak at that hearing.

At the time of the Feb. 5 hearing, Veterans Administration representative Dr. Robert Jesse — when questioned about methods that could have been used to prevent the outbreak — implied administrators were between a rock and a hard place when it comes to doing away with Legionella.

“Maintaining the temperature at the tap of 130 degrees,” is an option said Jesse during the hearing. “There is a risk, the risk of scalding patients and that’s an unacceptable risk.”

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