A weeks-old baby who died from Legionnaires' disease was probably infected by bacteria in the water of the heated birthing pool it was born in, authorities in Texas say. The baby was hospitalized with an infection at 6 days old and died 19 days later. Texas Department of State Health Services researchers believe the pool the baby was born in at home is the only likely source of infection. No Legionella bacteria—which thrive in warm water—were found in the pool, but it had already been disinfected by the time investigators were called in, LiveScience reports. The researchers say the tragic death in January of this year highlights the risks of water births and the need to follow strict cleaning procedures. "Those who opt for water birth procedures should know that this is a risk and talk to their doctor about it," says epidemiologist Elyse Fritschel.
She co-authored the report on the case published in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The researchers note that Legionella bacteria "are ubiquitously found in the environment" and lead to as many as 18,000 hospitalizations in the US each year, but "underdeveloped lungs and immune systems place infants at high risk for severe complications." There are only a handful of similar cases on record, including one in the UK earlier this year. After a baby born in a rented home-birthing pool became seriously ill, authorities temporarily banned the use of pools with built-in heaters and recirculation pumps, the Guardian reports. They explained that while most birthing pools are safe, the Legionella bacteria can thrive in ones that use recirculated warm water and are capable of being filled well in advance of the birth. (Read more infection stories.)