CIPHE launch Legionella awareness campaign

This week, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease devastated New York, leaving at least twelve1 people dead whilst the city’s health professionals continue their battle to contain the deadly virus.

In the UK, there are around 360 cases of Legionnaires’ disease every year, from which 30 people die2.

Children, the elderly, smokers, and those with poor immune and respiratory systems are most at risk of contracting Legionnaires’, the potentially fatal form of pneumonia.

Despite such vulnerability, most people give little consideration to Legionnaires’ or its causes until it has reached the headlines, as it did this week. Sadly, once an outbreak has hit, it is too late.

How is Legionnaires’ transmitted?

Legionella pneumonophila is the bacterium responsible for Legionnaires’ disease. It got its name from the first known outbreak in 1976, where a large number of delegates at a USA Legionnaires convention contracted the disease.

The bacteria are most commonly found in water, and multiply in nutrient-rich conditions at temperatures between 20-45 degrees Celsius. The bacteria is dormant below 20 degrees Celsius and cannot survive in temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius.

The disease is contracted by inhaling small water droplets suspended in the air, known as aerosols.

Common Legionella sites in the UK: hot tubs and whirlpool baths.

Hot tubs have become very popular in the UK, with an estimated 10% of Brits owning one. Unfortunately, hot tubs are a breeding ground for Legionella bacterium due to the number of people getting in and out of them, the fact that most hot tubs are kept at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, and the fine mist that occurs above water level, making it easy for users to breathe in the deadly infection.

Whirlpools or spa baths are another site of infection, as although the water is likely to be changed regularly, stagnant water containing bacteria can settle in the jets and be released when the bath is next used.

And it’s not just around the home that people have to be wary, as there have been a number of outbreaks in public settings, one of the most severe of which occurred at a flower show in the Netherlands in 1999. It’s thought that the Legionella bacteria was inhaled as people paused to have a look at two new spa pool displays in the exhibition halls, tragically resulting in 133 laboratory confirmed Legionnaires’ cases, and 21 deaths.

Just three years ago, a similar case occurred at a garden centre in Stoke-on-Trent. Two men died and a further 21 people were infected during the outbreak, which started from a hot tub display.

CIPHE urge consumers to be vigilant.

The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) have launched a campaign to educate consumers about the perils of Legionella, and to provide potentially life-saving advice to prevent another outbreak occurring.

For those who own a hot tub, spa pool, or whirlpool, CIPHE advise:

  • Routine disinfection
  • Thorough cleaning
  • Close monitoring
  • Regular servicing and maintenance
  • Adherence to manufacturers’ instructions

Further information on how to manage your appliances and control the risk of Legionnaires’ infection is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

1 CBS New York, 2015. City Council To Debate Bill To Register, Regulate NYC Cooling Towers. [Online] Available at: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/08/11/legionnaires-cooling-tower-bill/.
2 CIPHE, 2015. Legionella Bacteria. [Online] Available at: http://www.ciphe.org.uk/consumer/safe-water-campaign/hot-tubs/.
[All information sources accessed 12th August 2015].

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