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Legionnaires’ disease is an often fatal form of atypical pneumonia that’s caused by the bacteria Legionella pneumophila. As pneumonia is a pulmonary disease, an infection of the lungs, and this already tells us something about how it’s caused. In those who are otherwise healthy, it has a fatality rate of around 10%. In those with relative underlying health conditions, that rises significantly to 25%, making it a disease that deserves careful understanding and mitigation.
How it spreads?
The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, Legionella pneumophila, is frequently found in water sources in relatively benign, low concentrations. When certain environmental conditions are present, it can quickly multiply in dangerous quantities. These conditions include stagnant water sources and temperatures between roughly 20 C and 45 C.
When water with high concentrations of the bacteria enters into the air in an aerosol and is inhaled, that’s when people can catch Legionnaires’ disease. Water can enter the air in a fine aerosol at showers, pools, taps, saunas and open evaporative cooling systems as in the first identified outbreak in Philadelphia.
The first identified outbreak
The first identified outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is a classic and tragic example of how an open evaporative cooling system was the root cause of the fatalities at the Belle Vue Stratford Hotel. This occurred at the 1976 convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia.
The outbreak led to over 150 hospitalisations and 29 deaths. It prompted an unprecedented investigation by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which eventually identified a newly identified bacteria which was subsequently coined as Legionella bacteria which is the causative organism for Legionnaires’ disease.
People at increased risk
While many otherwise healthy people might not contract Legionnaires’ disease from coming into contact with Legionella bacteria, certain groups are at an increased risk of getting seriously ill and affected mental health. These include the following:
- People above the age of 45
- People who smoke or who formerly smoked
- People who are suffering from chronic lung diseases such as emphysema
- People with cancer or with a weakened immune system (such as those undergoing chemotherapy treatment)
- People with an underlying condition such as liver failure, diabetes or kidney failure
Any establishments that frequently welcome people in these groups must be extra diligent in their approach to water hygiene.
Mitigating the risk of a Legionnaires outbreak
It’s important that any business running premises that people spend time in, whether employee welfare or guests, takes certain measures to mitigate the risk of a Legionnaires’ outbreak. This includes having risk assessments carried out by third-party providers.
When booking a Legionella Risk Assessment, it’s important that you do your due diligence. Our suggestion would be to only use companies that are UKAS accredited and are compliant with the relevant legislation under ACoP L8 and BS 8580. If you use providers who aren’t appropriately certified, you may end up with a risk assessment that does not meet regulatory standards, or even worse, puts your clients and employees at risk of serious illness.
Clearly, Legionnaires’ disease is a serious matter. Failure to implement appropriate protective measures like water management can at best result in regulatory action being taken against you, at worst, those under your duty of care falling ill or even dying.