A Texas infant died from Legionnaires’ disease just weeks after a home birth which took place in a heated birthing pool, according to details from a new report released by investigators from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Legionnaires’ disease is an acute form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria, which thrives in warm, moist environments such as bath and hot tubs, and plumbing systems, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“What people need to understand is that if there is a lack of protective coating on tubs, then it becomes a real danger because bacterial are going to reside within those cracks and divots,” says Branham Jarrell, President of Georgia Tub and Tile. “To get rid of minor cracks and chips, a glazing putty would be used. The material is then sanded and coated with a glaze.”
The infant’s death, in January 2014, is the first and only reported case of a Legionella infection directly tied to a water birth in the United States; however, a handful of similar cases have been reported in the UK and France. Researchers say that there could have been more cases that weren’t documented.
Severe cases of Legionella infections are not common; however, newborn infants are particularly susceptible to this and other infections due to their underdeveloped immune systems. As a result, they can develop severe complications if infected with the bacteria.
The six-day-old infant was rushed to the hospital with breathing complications and other signs of a respiratory infection. Though the physicians tested for other kinds of common bacteria, they suspected the infant was infected with Legionella due to being exposed to heated tub water. Test confirmed the physicians’ suspicions that the infant was indeed infected with the deadly bacteria. The infant died after a 19-day hospitalization.
The disinfecting process used by the midwifery center that provided the family with the birthing tub was reviewed by Texas public health investigators. The tub, as well was the well water used to fill it, were tested for bacteria.
By the time public health investigators were called, the birthing tub had already been disinfected and put in storage, which is perhaps why the Legionella bacteria was not found in the tub. While the well water also tested negative for the bacteria, current testing methods aren’t always able to detect the bacteria.
The Texas health department has made recommendations to the midwifery center regarding the prevention of Legionnaires’, as well as the disinfection of birthing and medical equipment.
The death of the infant has raised awareness regarding the potential risks of waterborne pathogens to infants born in birthing tubs.