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January 27, 2011 -
Today’s tip: Legionnaire’s disease is still a threat, and facility managers should have a plan to combat it.
Legionnaire’s Disease does not make headlines the way it used to. But that does not mean the pneumonia caused by the bacteria, legionella, is no longer a risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 8,000 and 10,000 people wind up in the hospital every year because of legionella. And those numbers may well underestimate the extent of the problem, says CDC, because many cases are either not diagnosed or not reported. Summer is the biggest problem time, but the illness can strike 12 months of the year. And Legionnaire’s Disease is a serious condition, leading to death in 5 to 30 percent of cases, according to CDC.
People contract the disease by inhaling a mist or vapor contaminated with legionella. Sources of the problem include plumbing systems, cooling towers, humidifiers, whirlpools, fountains and mist machines.
The only way to determine if legionella is present is to test the water, says Matthew Frieje, president of HC Info. The bacteria can be present in well-maintained systems, not just systems that are poorly maintained, he says.
Facility managers should take steps to ensure that their facilities’ water systems do not become breeding grounds for legionella. The World Health Organization recommends developing a water safety plan to evaluate risks of exposure to legionella. A water safety plan assesses hazards and ranks them in order of priority. It also calls for ongoing operational monitoring of control measures, such as the use of biocides, the prevention of stagnant water and the keeping of water temperature outside of the range in which legionella grows the best, to the extent possible. Legionella grows best in water temperatures between 20 C (68 F) and 50 C (122 F)
When seeking expertise to help prevent Legionnaire's disease, facility managers should look for unbiased advice, rather than relying on manufacturers selling products designed to help control legionella.