PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — From the water fountains to the bathroom sinks — school districts in our area are scrambling to test the water.

KDKA investigator Meghan Schiller went to Special Pathogens Laboratory in Uptown to explain why one school district’s elevated results serve as a good reminder for all of us.

“In a given week, we’re testing over a thousand samples for Legionella. And those samples come from hospitals, cooling towers, industrial locations and obviously this week, schools,” said Dr. Janet Stout, president and microbiologist at Special Pathogens Laboratory.

Dr. Stout leads a team known as Pittsburgh’s “Legionella experts.” She says the bacteria Legionella feeds on in water and stagnant water fuels its hunger.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“Under normal circumstances, the number of Legionella in these buildings would probably be low,” she said. “But because of COVID now, and the fact that those buildings have been empty including schools, now Legionella has an opportunity to grow.”

Students in the Fox Chapel School District returned to the classroom Monday with bottled water in their backpacks.

“It’s 2020 so there’s no surprises, right?” said parent Derek Coatney.

The district immediately notified parents that testing revealed four of its six buildings contained elevated levels of Legionella. Dr. Stout said if the samples in any building test positive for elevated levels, buildings should disinfect the water with chlorine or flush the water and re-test.

“Normally people that get Legionnaires’ are immune-compromised, heavy smokers, have chronic lung disease and are older,” said Dr. Stout. “The risk is higher after 50 (years of age) so children in schools are at low risk. But the people that work there might be at risk.”

Dr. Stout said the good news is that only two to five percent of people who come in contact with Legionella actually contract Legionnaires’ disease. But there is a 97 percent hospitalization rate for people who contract the disease.

Meghan Schiller