• Special Pathogens Laboratory Hires Director of Healthcare Services

    February 06, 2020

    Special Pathogens Laboratory is pleased to announce the hiring of Michael Castro, MPH, as director of Healthcare Services. Castro brings 19 years experience in providing education and risk mitigation strategies for Legionella and waterborne pathogens to healthcare facilities.

    Castro comes to Special Pathogens Laboratory from Pall Medical, a manufacturer of point-of-use water filtration for healthcare settings, where he most recently served as western hemisphere product manager of the Healthcare Water portfolio. While at Pall, Castro developed partnerships with healthcare facilities and state and local departments of health to help develop risk minimization strategies for hospital water systems, particularly among the high-risk populations. He also delivered national and international educational programs across the United States to state departments of health, local healthcare organizations and more than 20 chapters of APIC and ASHE

    Prior to joining Pall Medical, Castro held account management and leadership positions at Nalco, an Ecolab Company. During his 13-year tenure, in addition to providing water treatment consultative services, Castro developed new markets, was a field liaison for new product development, was responsible for P&L, and implemented new business processes to promote flexibility, responsiveness, delivery and adaptability, resulting in an average annual sales increase of 23% during his tenure. 

     “Michael is a perfect fit for Special Pathogens Laboratory,” says President Dr. Janet E. Stout. “His experience in education, expertise in water treatment, and foundation in engineering, will advance our goal of providing full-service solutions to hospitals so they can provide the best possible protection from hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease.” 

    Castro serves as a NVM Manufacturer Representative on the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188 - Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. He is  a voting member of NSF’s Protocol P376 for evaluation of Mechanical Water Filtration Systems for the Reduction of Bacteria and Fungi for Handwashing and Showering in Health Care Settings, Technical Advisor to the California Department of Public Health Healthcare-Associated Infections Advisory Committee, Environmental Cleaning in Healthcare Subcommittee. He was also a member of the Legionella Task Group for The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials’ (IAPMO) to work towards developing new plumbing standards that balance risk of scalding and Legionella. 

    Castro holds a Master of Public Health degree from Grand Canyon University, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University. 

  • Speaking of Legionella — November 2019

    November 01, 2019

    We love to talk Legionella! See below for a list of our upcoming speaking events for the month of November.

    To request that SPL speak at your event, to your staff, or give a webinar, fill out our Speaker Request Form.

  • Infection Prevention Expertise Lacking on Water Management Teams

    September 01, 2019

    Infection preventionists (IPs) should be a key member of these water management teams, but almost half the facilities consulted by Legionella experts did not have an IP on the committee, said Laura Morris, MT (ASCP), CIC, education coordinator at the Special Pathogens Laboratory (SPL) in Pittsburgh.

    “IPs have that knowledge of microbiology, so I am really stressing that the importance of you being on that team,” Morris said recently in Philadelphia at the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

    Morris and colleagues analyzed data from healthcare facilities with which the SPL has consulted since June 2017 — after the initial CMS memo — to assess water safety programs, perform risk assessments, and test for Legionella. They found that of 83 healthcare facilities, IPs were involved in water safety plans at only 43.2 In 71 of the water safety teams, the facilities management (i.e., engineering) was represented. Overall, 73% of the consultations were performed in acute care facilities. Overall, 87% of facilities had a “proactive,” ongoing water management plan, Morris said. However, 13% of the facilities established a water management plan only after identifying patient infections.

    “They were developed due to an outbreak or a case,” Morris said. “The alarming part is that of 42% of these ‘reactive’ teams did not have an IP on their team..."

    ...IPs can play key roles on water management teams with insights into medical devices, procedures, and construction and renovation that could contribute to waterborne infections, Morris said.

    “When you are looking through your daily surveillance, you may identify Legionella and other waterborne pathogens through clinical tests,” she said. “Are you noticing trends, or do you have a cluster? When your hospital is considering new procedures, think ‘Will this contain water or use water?’”

    The value of IP input has shown time and again in hospital construction and renovations, as patients could be vulnerable to dustborne fungal infections and other threats. This relationship with facility management and prior collaborations could be leveraged to be involved in the water management team, she noted.

    “We are really emphasizing the need to build that relationship,” Morris said. “Visit their world, learn their language, and ask questions.”

    Likewise, IPs should be aware of water treatments and any Legionella testing. “If they are testing for Legionella, what tests are they using?” she asked. “Are they using a quick test or the gold standard of culture? This is an area where you as an IP need to have input..."

    "...No one should die from a preventable disease caused by a bacterium in water,” Morris said. “It can and should be prevented. This might require you to go your C-suite to make the business case, as with our many of our infection prevention initiatives. The most important point is that this is a patient safety initiative.”

    Discuss the cost of a water safety management program with proactive testing compared to an outbreak, she recommended.

    “Once the health department gets involved, there is a lot of testing and a lot of measures that they will have you do. That can exceed $100,000,” she said. “There is also loss of business, public relations, and possible litigation.”

    (Excerpt from Hospital Infection & Prevention)

  • See Frontline special on Legionnaires' Outbreak in Flint, September 10

    August 27, 2019

    A two-year FRONTLINE investigation uncovers the extent of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak during the Flint water crisis — and how officials failed to stop it.

    The episode will air on PBS September 10. Watch an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Janet Stout in the trailer here.


  • 2019 Pall Water Hygiene Webinar Series

    August 22, 2019

    Ending Legionnaires' Disease: An Audacious or Achievable Goal?

    Date: Tuesday, August 27th 
    Time: 2:00 PM Eastern (11 AM Pacific) 
    Speaker: Janet E. Stout, PhD, President and Director, Special Pathogens Laboratory, USA
    Chaired by: Michael Castro, MPH, Western Hemisphere Product Manager – Healthcare Water, Pall Medical

    Legionnaires’ disease continues to be a global threat to public health. While this discovery is more than 40 years old, the prevention of this manmade disease remains elusive. Some may say this is an audacious goal, but we say it’s achievable! The solution is to control the growth and spread of these waterborne bacteria. Since water is the source, by controlling Legionella in the source, we control the risk for disease.
    This CE accredited webinar describes a validated proactive strategy of looking for Legionella in the water before disease occurs. Studies show that this approach is the keystone for prevention. Testing premise water systems using environmental culturing techniques forLegionella is crucial for both the investigation of Legionella outbreaks and routine microbiological surveillance for Legionella.

    Register and attend to earn 1 CE credit.
    (CE credit for healthcare professionals with US license numbers only.)

  • Controlling Legionella: Discussions from the HITS Consortium

    August 22, 2019

    The Healthcare Infection Transmission Systems (HITS) Catalyst for Change conference was recently held in Buffalo, New York. The 3-day consortium focused on several topics, with 1 day especially focused on the health care burden and control efforts for Legionella.

    The causative bacteria of Legionnaires’ disease poses a unique public health threat and continues to cause outbreaks, with a large one recently reported in Atlanta, Georgia. Legionella is also extremely problematic for health care facilities, as it can easily prey on immunocompromised patients if proper water management protocols are not followed. 

    The final day of the consortium was focused on Legionella and water safety measures in health care, with discussions led by speakers Janet Stout, PhD; Sarah Clock, MPH, PhD; and Molly Scanlon, PhD, FAIA, FACHA. The speakers asked several key questions and discussed many difficult topics for health care professionals, with a focus on whether Legionnaires’ disease can be stopped.

    For one, Stout emphasized that potable water is the most important source of Legionella transmission and that cooling towers are actually not a common source for sporadic or health care-associated cases, but rather large community outbreaks. Perhaps the most daunting statistic presented was that health care facilities account for 57% of Legionella cases and 85% of deaths.

    Moreover, 20% of the reported cases are health care-associated and that ultimately, progress has been slow. Citing several outbreaks that have occurred in the past year, including 1 in a Toronto nursing home or an outbreak associated with a new Ohio hospital that required $61,000 to contain transmission, Stout emphasized that this is a growing problem, and Legionnaires’ disease cases have increased more than 300% in the past decade.

    (Excerpt from Contagion Live)

  • CBS46 goes inside newly reopened Sheraton Atlanta following legionnaires' outbreak

    August 20, 2019


    The day after the Sheraton Atlanta was cleared to reopen, CBS46 checked into the hotel.

    ...The Georgia Department of Public Health said legionella bacteria was found in the hotel's cooling tower and in a fountain near the pool.

    We called Dr. Janet Stout, an expert in legionella remediation, who said legionella is naturally found in some water systems.

    “It isn't until it gets into our buildings and water systems where there's a combination of temperatures from bodies, temperatures from nutrients, and other bacteria, that it actually grows to numbers that are of concern.”

    The Sheraton hotel’s legionella outbreak claimed one life and sickened plenty of others.

    The Sheraton Atlanta General Manager, Ken Peduzzi, agreed to answer our questions off camera. He said remediation included cleaning water lines with high amounts of chlorine, tested every four hours. He said the process involved environmentalists, epidemiologists and outside labs.

    Dr. Stout said that sounded about right.

    (Excerpt from CBS46)

  • Women & Business July 2019: Janet E. Stout

    June 19, 2019


    Pittsburgh Magazine's Women and Business Recognizes Dr. Janet E. Stout, President and Director, Special Pathogens Laboratory  

    During her time in college at Clarion University, Janet Stout was originally interested in microbiology. When it was time for her to pursue a graduate degree, Stout applied to the University of Pittsburgh’s Life Sciences program — and ended up in her current field by mistake.

    “I called to inquire about my application and by mistake was transferred to the Graduate School of Public Health’s Infectious Disease Microbiology program,” she says. “I ultimately decided to go there for my master’s degree and then my PhD.” She has stayed in Pittsburgh ever since.

    Today, Stout is internationally recognized for pioneering research in Legionella bacteria and is the president and director of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, where the mission is to end Legionnaires’ disease and other waterborne infections through evidence-based laboratory, consulting and education solutions.

    “We save lives,” she says.

    In her role, Stout says she wears a lot of hats. Founded as the first and only Legionella reference laboratory in the country by the VA, Stout served as the director of the microbiology lab for more than 23 years. In 2007, she and several colleagues left the Pittsburgh VA to launch Special Pathogens Laboratory as an LLC. 

    The company continues to grow to help hospitals and other organizations implement risk assessments, water safety plans and proactive testing of their water systems for Legionella bacteria and assists them if cases occur. In recognition of her achievements, Stout was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
    At Special Pathogens Laboratory, 70 percent of the employees are women. To those women and others in business, Stout advises to never give up — and that you need to work hard to be lucky.

    “It’s a wonderful position to be in to be an inspiration and encourage other women,” she says.

    Pittsburgh Magazine's Women and Business recognition program is sponsored by S&T Bank.

  • SPL's Interactive Workshop for Healthcare Promotes Collaboration

    April 29, 2019

    Special Pathogens Laboratory to Host Conference Designed to Promote Shared Knowledge and Foster Communication Among Water Management Teams

    Pittsburgh, Pa. (April 29 2019) —Special Pathogens Laboratory will host Puzzled by Legionella and Waterborne  Pathogens? A Solutions Workshop for Healthcare at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, Wednesday, May 8, 2019.

    Managing risk from Legionella and waterborne pathogens requires effective team communication. Compliance with regulations can be challenging when water management teams comprise members across an organization with different responsibilities and priorities.

    This workshop promotes an environment that fosters mutual understanding of the risk for Legionella in building water systems and provides evidence-based solutions.

    Lectures and hands-on learning stations lay the foundation for continued multidisciplinary collaboration. Participates will share a first-hand look through the microscope at Legionella and other waterborne pathogens; learn about plumbing materials and corrosion; see how a model cooling tower operates; and understand controlling risk in ice machines.

“The demand for this workshop grew out of the need for mutual understanding and effective communication across the organization,” says Dr. Janet Stout, president of Special Pathogens Laboratory. “We’re excited to offer this unique educational experience because it takes a team to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.”

    Designed for healthcare and long-term care administrators, risk managers, infection prevention professionals, facilities managers and engineers, conference highlights include:

    • Speakers from microbiology, engineering, infection prevention, and public health
    • Regulatory and compliance requirements from local and state New York health officials
    • Developing ASHRAE water management plans 
    • Ins and outs of CMS inspections
    • Four Nursing CEUs  

    Bring a colleague from your organization for free! See details on registration page

  • IPs Respond to CMS Legionella Directive

    April 27, 2018

    Almost a year has passed since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a compliance memorandum telling healthcare systems to perform risk assessments and implement water safety programs to prevent patients from acquiring Legionnaires’ disease (LD).

    It’s making a difference in terms of infection preventionists putting Legionella on their radar and hospitals seeking testing and risk assessment advice, says Janet Stout, PhD, president of the Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

    She predicted as much last year after the CMS memo was issued right before the annual APIC conference, turning Stout’s relatively pedestrian Legionella presentation into “must-see” IC.

    Facing a packed crowd seeking compliance guidance, Stout finally was no longer a voice in the wilderness.

    After investigating LD since that first, titular outbreak in 1976 at a Legionnaires’ convention in Philadelphia, Stout was ready to share a wealth of accumulated information.

    “When I speak at something like that — there are also other sessions going on — I expect something like 50 or 100 people,” she says. “It was standing room only. There must have been 500 to 600 people there. That was a dramatic visual depiction of the impact of the CMS memorandum. When CMS speaks, every healthcare facility listens.”

    The CMS outlined the situation in no uncertain terms. The compliance directive was needed because a review of the increasing number of LD outbreaks in 2000-2014 showed that 15% were in hospitals and 19% in long-term care.

    “The CMS expects Medicare-certified healthcare facilities to have water management policies and procedures to reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in building water systems,” the agency emphasized.1

    Primarily caused by Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, LD outbreaks in healthcare are typically traced to the waterborne bug becoming aerosolized and inhaled in shower mist. Faucets, spas and baths, cooling towers, decorative fountains, and medical equipment also have been implicated.

    Hospital Infection Control & Prevention asked Stout to update the situation in the following interview.

    There is no reason to be afraid to evaluate the presence of Legionella. What gets people stuck is that they believe for some reason that you can completely eliminate a naturally occurring bacteria from complex water systems in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

    You can’t. You can control it, which is sufficient to manage or prevent disease. That is the “zero” worth looking for. We are looking for zero cases of LD, not zero bacteria.

    HIC: While there often is resistance to regulation in clinical settings, you have made the case that this CMS action is a good thing.

    Stout: When the memorandum came out last year, I emailed the contact person and said, “Congratulations on doing something that will dramatically move the prevention of healthcare-acquired LD forward — forward in a way that will be much more substantive than the ASHRAE standard that came out in 2015, or even the CDC water management toolkit.

    First of all, the CMS memo was short and to the point. You must have a risk assessment and water management plan to address the risk of Legionella in your facility, and you need to have measures that demonstrate control, including testing for pathogens like Legionella.

    HIC: Legionella has come to national attention following outbreaks, but subsequently fades back again. Will this regulatory aspect finally set prevention as a priority?

    Stout: The only caveat I will say is that it has the potential to dramatically reduce healthcare-acquired LD. In the Special Pathogens Lab, we do the testing for Legionella and other organisms, and do consultations to help people comply with CMS and other standards.

    We have seen a dramatic uptick in requests for testing, risk assessments, and water management plans. Usually with these things there are early adopters, people in the middle, and later adopters. With ASHRAE, even though it was an industry best practice, it was still a voluntary standard. CMS is not voluntary.