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What is Legionnaires disease?

  • Posted
Breathe easy week 2018 - 18th June - 24th June

Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of lung infection. It is normally contracted by inhaling small droplets of water that are suspended in the air, containing the bacteria.

Legionella pneumophila is commonly found in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and moist soil, but this is usually in low numbers. The bacteria may also be found in purpose-built water systems such as air conditioning cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold-water systems and spa pools.

If you are an employer, or someone in control of premises, including landlords, you must understand the health risks associated with legionella. Carrying out risk assessments for legionella is your responsibility.

What causes Legionnaires disease?

Different factors come into account when checking for legionella, although where the below factors are present, exposure is most likely:

  • the water temperature in all or some parts of the system is between 20–45 °C
  • water is stored or re-circulated as part of your system
  • there are sources within the system such as rust, sludge or limescale
  • the conditions are likely to encourage bacteria to multiply
  • it is also likely that employees, residents, visitors etc are more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, a weakened immune system etc

How can Legionnaires disease be prevented?

There has recently been updates for health and safety in relation to legionella bacteria that is found in evaporative cooling systems, as these systems are an ideal environment for dangerous levels of legionella to grow. These changes include further information on DPD No 1 testing methodology, and the effect that cooling water pH has on the efficacy of halogen-based biocides such as chlorine and bromine.

In order to help prevent the risk of exposure to legionella the below points need to be taken into account:

  • Water should be stored at 60°C or higher in any hot water storage cylinders 
  • Hot water should be distributed at 50°C or higher 
  • Cold water should be stored and distributed at below 20°C

Legionella bacteria begins to die in temperatures above 50°C and cannot survive above 60°C. When not in use for long periods, water should be drained from the unit so there is no standing water to rise to ambient temperature.  When a mobile evaporative cooler has been in use for more than six months then it is recommended the unit is cleaned, or serviced by engineers, to ensure it is working at maximum efficiency. 

What are the symptoms of Legionnaires disease?

Symptoms of legionnaires disease include a cough, shortness of breath, a fever, muscle aches and headaches. Legionnaires disease can be diagnosed on an x-ray. If left untreated Legionnaires' disease usually worsens during the first week and could cause severe pneumonia. The most frequent complications of legionnaires disease are respiratory failure, shock, acute kidney and multi-organ failure, although the disease tends to be found and treated before this and a person suffering from the disease will usually make a full recovery within a year.

If you have been diagnosed with Legionnaires disease and believe that this is due to your employer or even your landlord, then please do not hesitate to contact our personal injury team on 0161 696 6235 and you will be able to speak with a new business advisor who will discuss and assess your claim further.

By Rachel Gildart, new business advisor