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Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE and Niamh O’Beirne, Executive Management Team at the HSE. Photocall Ireland

Medics warn of Legionnaires' Disease outbreak due to high number of water systems lying idle

Many buildings have been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

THE HSE’S HEALTH Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) today urged people to be aware of Legionnaires’ Disease, which can be caused due to bacteria growth in appliances which have been left untouched due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The illness is a type of pneumonia which causes serious illness in people aged over 50 years, smokers, and those with underlying health conditions. Both Legionnaires’ Disease and its milder form, Pontiac fever, are caused by the growth of Legionella bacteria in water systems which are not adequately managed.

The HSE said that, due to the current pandemic, many buildings have been closed, or their use restricted.

“This can increase the risk of Legionella growth in the water systems and associated equipment including evaporative air conditioning systems, water fountains, showers, spa pools, and other equipment if the water systems have not been managed adequately, “the statement from the HSE added. 

Dr Suzanne Cotter, Specialist in Public Health Medicine for the HSPC explained that “the illness is acquired by the inhalation of aerosolised water contaminated with Legionella bacteria”.

The fatality rate of the disease is about 10%. The illness usually starts with flu-like symptoms including fever, tiredness, headache, and muscle pains. This is followed by a dry cough and breathing difficulties that may progress to a severe pneumonia.

Dr Cotter added: “It is very important that during this pandemic and in particular, before reopening occurs that all water systems are kept safe for the future health and safety of guests, visitors and staff.

“The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESGLI) has produced step by step guidance for managing Legionella in building water systems during the Covid-19 Pandemic which are available at the HPSC website.”

Dr Cotter said the guidance is aimed at hotels, campsites and cruise ships but is relevant to all public, residential and office buildings with similar water systems. 

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