PITTSBURGH (AP) — Federal health officials now say five people may have died from Legionnaires' disease at local Veterans Affairs hospitals over the last two years, not the one person previously reported, a congressman said Tuesday.
The information emerged at a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican leading the hearing, said a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that five patients may have died from the respiratory infection, television station KDKA reported. The VA previously had said 29 Legionnaires' cases were recorded at the hospitals since January 2011, and local officials confirmed one death.
Speakers at the hearing including the chairman of the LiquiTech water treatment company, Steve Schira, said that the VA wasn't performing routine maintenance on its water system and that could have helped cause the Legionnaires' problem.
Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., said that if the allegations against the VA aren't true, the VA needs to provide a comprehensive response to disprove them.
"It's very troubling that the VA has been accused of gross negligence, and if that's the case, the responsible parties need to be held accountable," Doyle said in a statement after the hearing.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said the information raises new questions about whether the outbreak could have been prevented.
Legionnaires' disease most often strikes the elderly and can cause deadly pneumonia. It's caused by bacteria that can be spread through mist or vapor from contaminated water or air conditioning systems.
The VA announced the outbreak Nov. 16 and switched its water treatment systems at two hospitals in Pittsburgh.
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