Could your company be a breeding ground for Legionnaires’ disease?

Four new cases of Legionnaires disease were reported in the Grimsby area recently, the outbreak was initially confirmed on July 27th and the patients in question are currently recovering from the condition.

This isn’t an isolated case either. At the time of writing (8th August) a fresh outbreak of Legionnaires has just been reported in the West Midlands, this time involving seven people, one of which (a 63-year-old man) is currently recovering in Staffordshire General Hospital.

This is a little too close for comfort for the team at Sovereign Air Conditioning, we’re based in Staffordshire and this latest outbreak of legionnaires is right on our doorstep!

Our initial reaction is to inform our customers about the causes of Legionnaires’ disease, keep reading and you should find the following information interesting.

What causes Legionnaires’ disease?    

In the vast majority of cases, the bacterium Legionella Pneumophila is the main cause of the disease. The bacteria can be found in any freshwater environment. It’s commonly found in rivers, lakes and streams but the cool water temperatures prevent the bacteria from spreading and growing so rarely presents a problem to human health in these conditions.

It’s a different story if the bacteria finds its way into artificial water systems though, in these instances it can quickly multiply, grow and it reproduces, which leads to widespread contamination.

How does it grow?

Water temperature is one of the key factors that enable Legionnaire bacteria to grow. At cool temperatures, the bacteria is relatively dormant, between 20 – 450C though the bacteria becomes active, it starts to grow and it spreads through water systems.

The condition of water helps the bacteria to grow too. It feeds on sludge and limescale plus any other impurities that are found in water supplies.

Danger areas you might find Legionnaires’ disease

Any artificial water system could become a breeding ground for the bacteria and most man-made water solutions are at risk. This can include the following list of potential bacteria hot spots:

  • Cooling towers (used for air conditioning)
  • Hot and cold water systems
  • Spa baths
  • Showers
  • Baths
  • Whirlpool systems
  • ‘Misting’ systems and humidifiers used for fresh produce displays
  • Fresh water fountains

All of the above artificial water systems are at risk from contamination and anyone can be in danger of contracting the disease, however, certain people are more vulnerable than others.

They include people that…

  • Have heart conditions
  • Are heavy drinkers
  • Are smokers
  • Are over 50 years of age
  • Suffer from diabetes
  • Have kidney disease
  • Have liver disease
  • Struggle with a low immune system

Classic symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease

The initial signs of contracting Legionnaires’ disease usually start to manifest around 2 – 19 days after the first exposure. Initially, patients complain of mild headaches and muscle pain, the disease mimics the effects of influenza but further, serious complications are set to follow such as –

  • High temperatures (1000F or more!)
  • Chills
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Acute muscle pain
  • Confusion
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Pains in the chest
  • Shortness of breath

Obviously, if you think you or somebody you know is at risk, or is suffering from a combination of the above conditions you should seek medical advice from your GP as soon as possible.  The disease can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics as long as the condition is diagnosed in time.

Preventing Legionnaires’ disease

Maintenance is the key to preventing Legionnaires’ disease. Water services should be maintained and controlled to prevent the growth and multiplication of the spores. Tips to help you implement effective safety measures include:

  • Keeping water temperatures and conditions regulated to prevent bacteria growth
  • Ensuring water cannot stagnate
  • Keeping systems clean
  • Water treatment to kill microorganisms

Effective maintenance of air conditioning systems that use water for cooling will reduce the chances of a Legionella outbreak.  Contact us at Sovereign PSL for assistance in this area.

Author: Gareth Whalley
Sharing my vast knowledge in the Air Conditioning and Mechanical services field especially in HVAC installation, service and maintenance across a broad range of sectors, including Healthcare, Education, Transport, Banking, Retail and Commercial developments.