The Legionnaires disease is a potentially deadly form of pneumonia which can affect anybody, but which principally affects those who are susceptible because of age, illness, smoking and more. It was named like that after a severe outbreak of pneumonia that hit a meeting of the American Legion in the seventies.It is caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria that can be found naturally in environmental water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, usually in low numbers. As they are commonly found in environmental sources they may also be found in purpose built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and whirlpool spas. As a matter of fact, many other species of the organism and mild illnesses other than pneumonia may be caused by those organisms. Thirty four other species have actually been identified.
If conditions are favourable the bacteria may grow creating conditions in which the risk from Legionnaires’disease is increased.The symptoms of that disease are actually very similar to those of the flu. People usually become infected by the bacteria when they breathe in the legionella bacteria which have been released into the air in aerosolised form from a contaminated source. Once in the lungs the bacteria multiply and can cause either pneumonia or a less serious flu like illness.This organism lives in the water. It can only cause disease when water droplets containing the bacterium enter the atmosphere as fine particles or in an aerosol that enables them to be inhaled deep into the lungs as said before. Cooling towers are often a source of infection, as they produce a very fine aerosol. So too have air conditioning systems, especially if poorly maintained. The disease is not actually spread from person-to-person, and fifty percent of the outbreaks have been linked to whirlpool spas or hot tubs.Like for asbestos with asbestos surveys, legionella risk assessment needs to be done if necessary to make sure everything is fine. Control and prevention of this disease in the work environment and elsewhere can be done through a treatment of the source of the infection by simply treating the contaminated water system.
Awareness of Legionella and the potentially lethal effects of the Legionnaires’ disease have grown rapidly in recent years, as did the request to get legionella training or legionella risk assessment. With several major outbreaks and high profile prosecutions under the Health & Safety at Work Act it is now more important than ever that organisations and individuals understand their legal duties and the serious consequences of a failure to comply with the law.