September 21, 2023

CDC: Lung Donations Were Likely Source of Pennsylvania Legionella Transmission

Two individuals who received a lung from the same donor in May 2022 and later developed legionellosis were likely infected by the transplanted organs, according to a new report from CDC. The donor was a man in his thirties who had drowned in a river. One of the patients experienced multiple post-operative complications and passed away approximately six months after the transplant surgery.

The report represents the first documentation of Legionella transmission via organ transplant. No testing for Legionella was performed on the donor, but the two patients were infected by different strains of the bacteria, which suggests river water as the origin since multiple species of Legionella are known to live in fresh water.

Legionella transmission is usually associated with human-made water systems. But the Philadelphia-area hospital where both transplants occurred was found to have a well-functioning water management plan, there was no indication of disturbances to the water system or other events that may have increased the risk for Legionella infection, and no other cases of legionellosis from the facility were reported in the six months before and after the incident. “Given the tight clustering in time, identification of additional cases would be expected if the source was the hospital facility’s water system or cooling towers,” the report reads.

For more information, visit the website of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Related: Read about how to perform Legionella source risk assessments in the April 2019 issue of The Synergist.