PA Department of Health shares new finding to help protect transplant recipients from serious lung infections

19 September 2023- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this week that a team of epidemiologists at the Pennsylvania Department of Health is the first in the country to identify the transmission of Legionella from an organ directly to a transplant patient. The discovery could help prevent the transfer of Legionella in future transplant recipients. 

The Department’s epidemiologists, who investigate the causes and patterns of diseases, identified a suspected Legionella transmission from a single donor lung to two recipients.  

Patients, who have weakened immune systems, have always been at increased risk of contracting Legionella from the environment after a transplant has taken place. The new discovery from the Department of Health reveals the two transplant recipients appear to have been infected from the organ itself, rather than the environment. 

“I’m extremely proud of our team of epidemiologists who identified a possible new source of Legionella infection from a donated organ to a transplant recipient,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health. “We are hopeful this discovery will help improve patient outcomes and reduce serious lung infections among transplant recipients.” 

Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires disease which is a severe pneumonia. The CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health investigated cases in 2022 of Legionnaires disease in two transplant patients who received a single lung from the same donor. Investigators studied CT scans, tested specimens for Legionella, and reviewed water quality parameters and Legionella testing records from the transplant hospital to determine if the infections were transmitted through transplanted organs and to identify other patients potentially at risk. 

Prompt identification of Legionella infection can help with treatment and prevent further complications. 

The Department’s research is published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)