Avoiding Legionella in Nursing Homes in the Time of COVID-19



Nursing homes have instituted a number of safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, changing many aspects of their daily operations in order to protect the health and wellbeing of residents and employees.  These measures, along with reduced occupancy, have often limited overall foot traffic throughout a facility and have led to reduced usage of some sinks, showers, bath tubs, and even entire wings.

Are you managing a healthcare facility during this global pandemic?  If so, this may sound familiar.  With so much focus rightly being placed on COVID-19 protocols, it is important to make sure you are not overlooking necessary and routine water maintenance in your facility.  Proper water treatment is especially critical as nursing homes and other healthcare facilities experience reduced water usage.

A Rise in Legionella Cases

As a leader in the water treatment industry, we at Clarity Water Technologies are seeing this limited water usage lead to a rise in detectible cases of Legionella pneuemopila in system building water.  Of course, we understand the necessary protocols and standards for maintaining a healthy and safe patient population during these terrible times of COVID-19.  However, in trying to fend off one virus you may be enabling the growth of a dormant bacteria.  Clarity can help you with this delicate balancing act.

Limited Water Usage Can Lead to Problems in a Facility 

Continuous water movement in a facility is paramount in protecting and maintaining high quality potable water.  That being said, when facilities limit the use of sinks, showers, and tubs, these outlets no longer draw fresh water into the system.  When water usage drops, cold water from an incoming main will sit in your plumbing and adjust to the ambient temperature of a given facility.  These tepid temperatures are usually around 50F to 70F, which is a prime temperature to grow a common bacteria found in all natural waters, Legionella pneumophila.  This bacteria is responsible for Legionnaires disease which is a form of pneumonia that includes cough, shortness for breath, fever, muscle pain, and headaches.  This bacterial infection, when introduced into a healthy person, can be fought off; however, those who are immunocompromised can develop severe and even fatal cases.

Bacteria Growth in Hot Water Systems

While Legionella exists in cold water, we see it proliferate in a facility’s hot-water system.  It is here where incoming water mixes with the hot-water return and feeds into a hot water heater.  Some facilities use instantaneous hot-water heaters while other facilities prefer upright hot-water tank heating systems.  Upright hot-water tank heating systems will typically heat water in a profile like manner.  That means there is the unequal heating within the tank that forces convective motion, much like boiling pasta on the stove.  This convective process in a large vessel can encourage dissolved solids to precipitate or fall out of the heated water.  These sediments can build on heating elements and also begin to fill the basin of hot-water tanks. 

To prevent sediment buildup as well as a decrease in heating efficiency, hot-water tanks must be addressed regularly.  When sediments adhere to heating elements, heat-transfer decreases and the water will not become as hot as thermally designed.  This can and will limit the “thermal killing effect” a hot-water heater may provide on living bacteria.  If bacterium is not eliminated due to lower-than-specified high temperatures, that bacteria will most likely continue to grow both within the tank as well as the distribution system.  Essentially, you supercharge the growth of the bacteria and continue to cycle that unused water within the system.  Fresh cold water, from the incoming water main will bring nutrients for the bacteria to feed on and now you have created a vicious cycle.  Again, if you are experience these or similar issues, we can address these problems with effective interventions.

How Clarity Can Help

2020 has been a tough time for us all.  Clarity has seen first-hand the toll this pandemic has taken on nursing home residents, facility managers, and staff, and how it has impacted occupancy and daily operations.  As water usage remains low, natural waterborne bacteria continues to build in facility plumbing.  Clarity has the experience, technology and infrastructure to provide building remediation services.  With a facility-wide approach, we can disinfect and flush currently stagnated plumbing systems and provide ongoing integrated water maintenance plans.  In situations where waterborne bacteria continue to exist, we can also accommodate those facilities with state-of-the-art online disinfection systems that will provide your building with a secondary form of potable water disinfection. 

If you are experiencing these problems or you are looking for help in better understanding your building water, please feel free to reach out to Clarity Water Technologies with any questions or comments.

About Clarity Water Technologies

Clarity Water Technologies is the leading industrial and commercial water treatment company, providing expert consulting and cutting-edge chemistry for your facility’s heating, cooling, potable and process applications.

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About the Clarity Blog

Clarity’s Water Treatment blog is written to provide tips and helpful information to anyone who is involved in managing a water treatment application at a facility. 

Our water treatment experts are here to help, no matter what your facility’s heating, cooling, potable or process application may be.  Check our blog for articles on topics like boiler and cooling water, cooling tower cleaning, legionella prevention and remediation, and environmentally-friendly water treatment options.

Clarity Water Technologies is the leading industrial and commercial water treatment company in the U.S.

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