Emails revealed inaccurate reporting concerning a Legionnaires’ outbreak in a Pittsburgh VA.


(via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette): U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is asking for a federal inquiry into how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated the 2012 Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, following publication of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series raising questions about possible bias by federal officials.

“It is of great concern to me and should be to anyone interested in this that there could be bias in the CDC’s results in this investigation” of the Pittsburgh VA Legionnaires’ outbreak, Mr. Casey said Monday. “I am going to ask the Inspector General at the CDC how [the CDC] managed this investigation and whether they accurately reported the results in this investigation.”

The Post-Gazette’s series, which was published Sunday and today, presented emails between CDC officials that showed personal bias against two prominent Legionnaires’ researchers, Victor Yu and Janet Stout, as well as the copper-silver ionization disinfection system the VA used to control Legionella in the water.

The stories showed that a personal bias may have played a role in how the CDC decided to present information in both a 2013 report to Congress and a 2015 article in the Clinical Infectious Disease journal.

Families of the six veterans who died during the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA in 2011 and 2012 also were upset by what they read in the Post-Gazette series.

“I’m just all angry and fired up again,” said Judy Nicklas, daughter-in-law of William Nicklas, 87, of Hampton, who died Nov. 2, 2012, after contracting Legionnaires’ at the Pittsburgh VA.

The CDC officials quoted in the emails “took this terrible thing that involved the death of veterans and they turned it into a personal thing between them and Dr. Yu and Dr. Stout,” she said. “Veterans are dying and this is what you’re concerned with? Really?”

Mr. Casey, a Democrat, sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which oversees the CDC. He said he will speak to the majority chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and minority chair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., about also having the committee examine the CDC’s actions.

In 2012, Mr. Casey, along with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, asked for the VA’s Office of the Inspector General to take a look at the Pittsburgh VA outbreak, which sickened 22 veterans and led to the deaths of six of them.

The findings of the April, 2013 VA/OIG review of the outbreak blamed VA employees for the outbreak, in particular finding that the VA had failed to properly maintain the Pittsburgh hospital’s copper-silver system. The CDC’s own finding two months earlier put the blame on the VA’s protocols and the copper-silver system itself, saying that it failed to eradicate Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’.

Mr. Casey said he was bothered by the emails in the Post-Gazette’s series showing the personal bias among CDC officials because: “If we ever needed an institution or instrument of government to be non-biased, you would want it to be the CDC.”

“It’s okay to have a scientific debate about what is the appropriate way to control a disease,” he said. “But it’s another thing to have a bias and have it affecting the results you present.”

Click here to read the full article on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.