Kidney transplants at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical center are currently on hold as the facility seeks to protect veterans against Legionnaires' disease and the legionella bacteria.
The Birmingham VA is one of only a few veterans' hospitals in the country that have a kidney transplant program. That designation means they must undergo more stringent testing and it was while going through those tests in April that low levels of the legionella bacteria were discovered.
There were no patients infected by the bacteria, so the VA was not required to report it to the state health department. But leaders immediately addressed the problem by performing thermal eradication and installing filters in high-risk areas where patients have more of a suppressed immune system.
Still, officials felt more could be done, so they have decided to also install a chlorine injection system. This will constantly pump chlorine through the water system so the legionella bacteria can stay at its lowest levels.
The system is not in place yet, so the VA has decided to hold off on performing any kidney transplants until it is in place in hopes of protecting the kidney donor and recipient.
"When they do donate that kidney you definitely don't want to jeopardize that with an infection or something that you could lose them," Jeff Hester, a spokesperson for the hospital, said.
"This is a life-altering, life-saving procedure and we would not want to jeopardize that with an infection in our system."
Hester says it's not yet known when the system will be installed. Several contractors are slated to present their systems to hospital officials next week.
In the meantime, there are about two dozen kidney patients involved in the transplant program now. Hester says he does not expect this delay to have a significant impact on them.
However, if an immediate need arises, he says they will transfer a patient to another transplant facility if need be.
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