Potentially deadly bacteria detected in Houston hospital's water supply

A sometimes-deadly bacterium has been detected in the water supply at Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital.

"Harris Health System prioritizes the health and safety of its patients, visitors and staff at all times," said a spokesperson from Harris Health System.  "During a recent quarterly testing of our water systems—as part of Harris Health’s comprehensive water management program—three areas with levels slightly above industry standards of Legionella bacterium were found in the Neuro Psychiatric Center on the Ben Taub Hospital campus."


Legionella is a bacteria linked to Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia. The bacteria is spread through water droplets.

"It is something you want to take very seriously," said Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, a toxicologist. "The population most at risk are older adults 50 and up, people who already have pre-existing lung conditions, smokers, and anyone who is immunocompromised because it affects the lungs."

In an apparent email obtained by FOX 26 that was sent to staff members at the hospital, a senior manager tells workers that they "have instructed the staff on duty to halt all patient showering and use of sinks that may cause water droplets that could be breathed in."

"Avoiding contact with the water is the most important thing," said Dr. Khan-Mayberry. "Making sure you aren’t around any water droplets in the air. Avoiding things that can cause water to aerosolize. Showering, washing hands, and flushing toilets as well."


Dr. Khan-Mayberry says the bacteria can cause people affected to have pneumonia-like symptoms such as a headache, fever, muscle aches, and shortness of breath.

"Generally, it’s not a fatal disease if caught early," said Dr. Khan-Mayberry. "That is why it’s so important to get to your doctor early and get tested."

"We immediately shutdown these areas and restricted all access," said a spokesperson from Harris Health System. "Importantly, no one was affected by the water. Of note, Legionella is a naturally occurring bacterium in water systems and can easily grow in stagnant water. Our teams, including an outside expert service, quickly completed remediation of the areas. We are now awaiting follow-up test results of new water samples for those areas."