Legionnaires’ disease occurs due to Legionella bacteria found in the water and soil. In small quantities, it does not pose a threat. But, when they colonise and increase in number, it can become a severe threat to health. This can happen when algae and related organic matter are present, and the temperature is between 35-45 ℃.
People with a high risk of Legionella
A person can contract the disease by aspiration or by inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria. If a person chokes while drinking water, the water droplets enter the lungs. The bacteria spread inside the lungs and causes illness in the person. It is seen as a severe form of pneumonia where the infected person shows symptoms resembling that of flu such as muscle pain and headache initially and diarrhoea, chest pains, vomiting, chills, and high fever when the condition becomes worse.
Formation of Legionella Taskforce
Legionella bacteria tend to colonise and grow in cooling towers. Due to this, the NSW Government has added to its cooling tower regulations. The outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease showed 93 reported cases in 2016 prompting the formation of Legionella Taskforce to manage the risks associated with Legionella. The maintenance of the water bodies and the use of cooling water treatment chemicals is seen as a possible solution to averting any crisis.
Prevalence during summer months
During the warmer months, the outbreak of Legionella is more prevalent. The ageing population is especially vulnerable along with those with a weakened immune system that happens due to chronic lung disease, smoking, drinking, and diabetes. With a high mortality rate of 30%, Legionella has made authorities to sit up and take action. Now, the owners of cooling towers are under more scrutiny than before.
Responsibility of owners
In the past, they had to notify the authorities of the existence of their cooling towers. But, now they have to do monthly testing and reporting of high bacteria levels from their cooling towers. The owners have to develop risk management plans for all their cooling towers. The regulations are in accordance with the Risk Management approach, the guidance of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, and that of the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009.
Method of preventing an outbreak
While the use of cooling water treatment chemicals could bring a measure of control, the real prevention could occur if one paid attention to the proper maintenance of water bodies, so they remained without contamination. In this respect, the Risk Management Plan (RMP) is a useful tool to prevent Legionnaires’ disease. NSW Health prescribes an approved form for a competent person to carry out an RMP.
Use of a competent person
A risk assessor is a competent person if has certain qualities. These include appropriate training, if he has the skill to provide sufficient and safe performance, does the final sign off on the RMP and has practical experience in dealing with this contingency.
You can make use of water treatment service providers who are experienced to keep your facilities safe. Elimination of high-risk factors such as poor water quality and stagnant water will help you avoid Legionella. One could also make restrictions to the location and access to the cooling towers as a means to avoid the outbreak of disease.