Legionella Pneumophila is a bacteria which causes Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia which damages the lungs; it is commonly found in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, however, the bacteria may also be found in purpose-built water systems such as cold water storage tanks, cooling towers, water heating systems, and water distribution systems. In addition to legionnaires’ disease the harmful Legionella bacteria can lead to several other serious conditions such as Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever; although people of all ages may run the risk of contracting one of these airborne conditions the risk does increase amongst people over 45 years old, people who smoke and drink, people who suffer from diabetes, and lastly those with a damaged immune system.
The bacteria were first discovered after an outbreak in 1976 which came after a convention was held at The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. Days after the convention, reports started to come in of attendees suffering from lung congestion and fever who were all then dying shortly after; it was later discovered that Legionella bacteria was present at the premises which of course led to attendees contracting fatal legionellosis.
Although the bacteria are widespread in all-natural water systems the conditions are rarely suitable for people to contract the disease from these sources. The risk of contracting legionellosis (a term for all conditions caused by the bacteria) is heightened where water is maintained at a temperature that is suitable to boost growth. This is often the case in purpose-built systems such as the ones mentioned earlier. Systems and environments where the water temperature is maintained between 20-45 degrees is the perfect habitat for the reproduction of this harmful bacteria which is released in breathable water droplets. It is at this point whereby the bacteria are inhaled that problems occur resulting in headaches, fever, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, problems with breathing and mental changes.
As an airborne disease people contract legionellosis by inhaling small droplets or aerosols containing the bacteria. Although the bacteria are not contagious and spread between people it can be found in public places such as hot tubs, communal showers, or cooling systems.
The outbreak of the disease has frequently been connected with locations including hotels, hospitals, and offices where the water supply has been contaminated. As a result, in 2013 the HSE brought in L8 – an approved code of practice document that outlines the control of legionella bacteria in water systems for duty holders in charge of premises to ensure they comply with legal duties in relation to legionella. This states that if a business employs five or more employees than a Legionella Risk assessment must be carried out. The outbreak of this disease is not a problem of the past with the number of reported cases being back on the rise since 2016 jumping from 359 that year to 814 in 2018. Making legionnaires disease an ever-present threat if not managed properly.
There are however a number of precautions and practices that we can all implement to reduce the risk of contracting this potentially fatal disease. Some of these include maintaining the cleanliness of water sources through following manufacturer guidelines for hot and cold water systems, hot tubs, and cooling units. More steps that can be taken is avoiding water stagnation by ensuring water systems are frequently flushed to prevent the stagnation that aids the reproduction of the bacteria and ensuring the cold water is below 20°C and Hot water above 50°C. The bacteria is less likely to become a problem in residential properties compared to commercial properties due to the constant flow of water, but measures should always be taken either at home or at work to reduce the risk of encountering legionellosis.
If you would like to find out more on how to combat the spread of Legionella or the services we offer for the management of this bacteria in water supplies click here or alternatively give us a call on 01604 878 190.