Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection caused by Legionella bacteria.
Initial symptoms usually include flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Muscle pain
- Dry cough
- Loss of appetite
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella bacteria infecting your lungs. It’s usually caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. The infection isn’t contagious and can’t be spread directly from person to person.
Whilst Legionella bacteria can be found in natural habitats such as ponds, rivers and lakes, the bacteria multiply rapidly if they find their way into artificial water supply systems, such as air conditioning systems.
Common places to catch the infection:
- Hot tubs
- Cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings)
- Showers and faucets
- Decorative fountains and water features
- Hot water tanks and heaters
- Large plumbing systems
The two things that Legionella bacteria need to grow and reproduce are:
- A water temperature of 20-45C (68-113F)
- Impurities in the water that the bacteria can use for food – such as rust, algae and limescale
Cases of Legionnaires’ disease arising in England and Wales usually peak between July and September.
Being over 50, smoking, drinking heavily, having a pre-existing illness such as diabetes or kidney disease, cancer or HIV can increase the risk of developing Legionnaires disease following exposure to the bacteria.
The best way to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is to ensure that any water system under your control is properly maintained and conforms to relevant health and safety regulations.
As an employer, the first thing you need to do is undertake a risk assessment to determine whether hazardous conditions and exist and if so, the steps needed to eliminate or reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
Simple steps such as keeping water free of impurities, moving and either cooled below 20C or heated above 60C will reduce the risk, however with more complicated systems, additional checks will be needed.