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Legionella discovery prompts evacuation of Fort Sam Houston barracks

The Liberty Barracks at Fort Sam Houston
Master Sgt. Mary Jackson
The Liberty Barracks at Fort Sam Houston

More than 150 residents and staff of the Liberty Barracks will be relocated. The pathogen was found in the plumbing system during routine testing.

Joint Base San Antonio found Legionella bacteria in a barracks at Fort Sam Houston and moved more than 150 residents and staff, the 502d Air Base Wing said Friday.

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

Liberty Barracks was built to house wounded and injured service members while they receive treatment at military treatment centers in the San Antonio area.

All of the service members facing relocation are undergoing treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center. They will be moved to other dorms across the installation in accordance with their medical needs. The Behavioral Health Clinic at the Liberty Barracks will also be temporarily relocated. Affected patients will be contacted about alternate arrangements.

Once the barracks is completely vacant, it will be treated with a process called superchlorination and tested before residents are allowed to move back in.

“As of the last few months, we have been fortunate to have significantly fewer service members needing the care that Liberty Barracks was designed to support,” said Brig. Gen. Russell Driggers, the Joint Base San Antonio and 502d Air Base Wing commander. “A significant portion of the facility, therefore, has been unoccupied. Water in the plumbing for these unoccupied rooms can sit stagnant, providing a breeding ground for bacteria like legionella.”

This is the third time in recent years that the building has been evacuated for legionella contamination in its plumbing. JBSA leadership, along with civil engineers and public health experts, said they were evaluating long-term solutions to prevent contamination from reoccurring.

Legionella is a bacteria that can cause symptoms ranging from a mild case of the flu to a type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease. The bacteria is transmitted through inhalation of mist or vapor. According to the CDC, there is a low risk of Legionnaires' disease for most healthy people.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame