Soldiers evacated from barracks at Fort Sam Houston after disease-causing bacteria found

A garden in a barracks courtyard at Fort Sam Houston that features herbs, vegetables and fragrant hedges. (Courtesy photo by Master Sgt. Mary Jackson)

Sig Christenson

San Antonio Express-News

Nov. 5—Joint Base San Antonio said Friday it is moving more than 80 residents and staff from a barracks at Fort Sam Houston where Legionella bacteria was found.

The command described the action as temporary and said the bacteria was found in unoccupied rooms during routine water testing. There have been no known cases of Legionnaire’s disease or other Legionella-based infections tied to the Liberty Barracks.

“Our routine testing program worked as intended — we identified an issue and are working toward remediation,” said JBSA’s commander, Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller. “We’ll continue to work with our partners at BAMC to make this temporary relocation as easy as possible for our service members.”

The troops moved out of the building were part of Brooke Army Medical Center’s Soldier Recovery Unit and have been relocated to other barracks and dorms. The command also said it would relocate patients from the Behavioral Health Clinic within Liberty Barracks. Appointments with the unit at other locations would not be affected, it added.

This is not the first time Legionella bacteria has been found on Fort Sam. In early February 2018, BAMC said it had found the likely source of the bacteria that had led to three patients contracting the disease — a water heater in a now abandoned building next to the main hospital.

BAMC conducted extensive testing after the bacteria was identified in two patients last August, but no source for it was found at that time. Hospital officials confirmed one new case of a Legionella infection in February but said at the time that none of the cases had developed into Legionnaire’s disease.

JBSA said that once the barracks had been completely vacated, the building would be treated through a process known as superchlorination. After 72 hours, the command’s civil engineer and public health personnel will assess the building’s safety, including additional sampling for the bacteria and tests for residual chlorine before allowing the soldiers to move back in.

Legionella bacteria is not spread from person to person. It is transmitted by breathing in a mist or vapor — small droplets of water in the air — that contains the bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that most healthy people will not get sick if they are exposed to the bacteria.

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