An outbreak of hazardous bacteria can happen in any healthcare facility, even with preventative measures in place. When an outbreak occurs, timely and effective action is vital to protect patients and staff and maintain the facility’s reputation. A good water management plan, thorough education, and the right expertise are key to bringing any bacteria outbreak under control. 

“You can’t completely eradicate biofilm,” explains Sara Simon, Mid Central Water Sales Specialist for Pall Corporation. “Waterborne pathogens are present in every facility.” Under certain conditions, harmful bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Legionella pneumophila can proliferate. This is when an outbreak occurs, and bacteria can threaten the health of patients and staff. Any healthcare facility can face an outbreak of hazardous bacteria, so it is vital to be prepared. 

Testing for waterborne pathogens should be part of any facility’s water management plan. “They should make sure they use a reputable company,” says Simon. “They can perform an investigation and work with the health department or the proper authorities.” Testing can identify an outbreak early on and enable timely action to be taken. 

In the event of an outbreak, patient safety is the number one concern. It is important to keep the water flowing to ensure essential functions can continue safely and protect the reputation of the facility. 

When a harmful bacteria outbreak occurs in water systems

The approach to managing an outbreak of hazardous bacteria is simple, Simon explains. “Keep patients safe, keep the trust instilled in your facility, and take the time to develop a long-term strategy,” she says. 

In the short term, facilities should monitor and react to the situation as it unfolds. “You can implement some type of disinfection and utilise point-of-use filtration so you can keep the water running,” adds Simon. “We take any outbreak very seriously. We typically travel to the facility ASAP, getting filters involved right away. We add filters to all of your faucets, your showers, your ice machines.” 

System disinfection, washing protocols and filtration can help bring an outbreak under control. Facilities should be aware of the limitations of any option they choose, and ensure they implement any necessary secondary disinfection. “Do your due diligence on different types of point-of-use filters,” Simon suggests. “Check to see if a 510(k) is available for a certain filter and check on the sterilizing grade claims the filter manufacturer might have.” 

Once the immediate situation is under control, healthcare facilities should ensure they have a longer-term strategy to manage hazardous bacteria. A good water management plan involves a range of different personnel from engineering, and infection prevention, to C-level and trusted advisors.

Navigating the challenges of water hygiene

When it comes to restoring the safety of the water system, healthcare facilities face challenges in responding to an urgent situation, in an environment with little margin for error. 

The right education around disinfection measures enables water management teams to make informed decisions. In the US, groups such as APIC and ASHE offer training and guidance for effective water management. Understanding water systems can help ensure that disinfection techniques are effective without causing plumbing issues. 

“You need to make sure that the proper control measures are utilised for each specific facility and condition,” says Simon. “Some facilities, pathogens or types of water quality might be better suited to copper-silver versus monochloramine or chlorine dioxide, for example.” 

Education will also help facilities understand biofilm in the longer term. Personnel should avoid assuming that the facility is safe after the outbreak has been managed and control measures are in place but biofilm is never completely eradicated. The key to long-term safety is ongoing and informed water management. 

The challenges that come with controlling outbreaks of hazardous bacteria and ensuring water safety require careful management. Across the healthcare industry, facilities struggle to source the manpower and expertise to properly address water safety. Partnering with the right advisors can be the key to transforming water management, managing outbreaks, and protecting patients. 

Pall’s specialists can provide expert advice and support for building operators seeking to improve the safety of their water systems. To find out more about more, download the document below.