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Healthcare-associated outbreaks and pseudo-outbreaks of rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM) are frequently associated with contaminated tap water. A pseudo-outbreak of Mycobacterium chelonae–M. abscessus in patients undergoing bronchoscopy was identified by 2 acute care hospitals. RGM was identified in bronchoscopy specimens of 28 patients, 25 of whom resided in the same skilled nursing facility (SNF). An investigation ruled out bronchoscopy procedures, specimen collection, and scope reprocessing at the hospitals as sources of transmission.
To identify the reservoir for RGM within the SNF and evaluate 2 water system treatments, hyperchlorination and point-of-use (POU) membrane filters, to reduce RGM.
A comparative in situ study of 2 water system treatments to prevent RGM transmission.
An SNF specializing in care of patients requiring ventilator support.
RGM and heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria were examined in facility water before and after hyperchlorination and in a subsequent 24-week assessment of filtered water by colony enumeration on Middlebrook and R2A media.
Mycobacterium chelonae was consistently isolated from the SNF water supply. Hyperchlorination reduced RGM by 1.5 log10 initially, but the population returned to original levels within 90 days. Concentration of HPC bacteria also decreased temporarily. RGM were reduced below detection level in filtered water, a 3-log10 reduction. HPC bacteria were not recovered from newly installed filters, although low quantities were found in water from 2-week-old filters.
POU membrane filters may be a feasible prevention measure for healthcare facilities to limit exposure of sensitive individuals to RGM in potable water systems.
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