Indoor Air / Water Pollution At Its Worst
One of the most common (and dangerous) airborne or waterborne diseases that can hit the human population is Legionnaires’ Disease. And if this sounds like something that you would only hear about in third world countries, you’re mistaken. In fact, just this month in Melbourne, Australia, there were reports in the news of the following:
A legionella scare at the Royal Children’s Hospital has left dozens of families on high alert … the families of about 30 patients are being warned their children may have been exposed to legionella. The patients are all believed to have used the Royal Children’s hydrotherapy pool since August 2.
And earlier this year there was another outbreak in Melbourne, linked to building cooling towers in the CBD that saw a number of people hospitalised.
And Melbourne certainly isn’t alone, with the Legionella Assessment And Management Plan Support group listing outbreaks across the United States, Australia, Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan in the last 6 months alone with a number of these transmitted through air conditioning systems.
So what is Legionnaires’ Disease, how do you get it, and how can it be prevented?
The Legionella Bacteria
Legionnaires’ disease comes from the Legionella bacteria which causes a type of pneumonia. The bacteria was first discovered back in the 1970s at an American Legion convention. There were around 2,000 people who attended the convention and 182 of these people contracted the disease. Of those 182, 29 died. Since then, there have been numerous outbreaks around the world that have resulted in hundreds of people getting sick, and tens of people actually dying, including England, Netherlands, Spain and Canada.
There are more than 50 species of the bacteria – the most common being the Legionella pneumophila and Legionella longbeachae.
Commonly Spread Through …
Legionnaires is most commonly spread through water sources both on-ground and through the air. This includes things like baths and showers, cooling towers and air conditioning vents, pools, and so on. At this stage there is no evidence that shows it can be spread from person to person, but if you inhale airborne water drops that contain the legionellae, or it comes into contact with broken wounds and so on, you could be infected.
It is also common in plant fertiliser.
It’s actually very prominent in hospitals, where people already have low immune systems and are more susceptible to getting it. If the airborne particles of the bacteria get into the water system or the air conditioning vents, it can spread throughout the hospital quite easily. Other common places to experience it include anywhere that is relatively closed in, with large populations; including conventions and exhibitions, prisons, hotels and apartment buildings.
Although it IS possible to get the bacteria in your own home (through your plumbing), it is more common in larger buildings.
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone can contract the disease, however it is more likely to affect those people who already have a low immune system. This is why it is more prevalent in hospitals than anywhere else. People who are suffering from an illness that weakens their immune system (such as cancer or HIV) are at highest risk, along with organ transplant recipients; while people over 65 years of age or newborns, smokers and heavy drinkers are also at more risk.
Between 5% and 15% of people who contract the disease, also die. And some people have it, but show no symptoms. If you have potentially been exposed, here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:
- Loss of energy
- Aching muscles
- High fever
- Chest pains
If you think you may have been exposed, or you suffer from any number of the above, you need to go to your doctor or hospital and have tests done to confirm this. If left too long, the disease will attack your immune system, ultimately leading to death.
If you have been exposed, but your health is on the mend, there are some long term side effects to take note of, including fatigue and lack of energy for numerous months.
How To Prevent It
Cooling towers and evaporative condensers that are found in air conditioning systems are a common way for the disease to spread and it’s particularly rife in summer when these systems are at their most prominent use. In order to ensure your system is healthy, get your system cleaned and tested regularly. This will also help to clean up any mould – which leads to other common airborne health problems.
Hospitals, businesses and the like also want to ensure their plumbing is maintained properly.
In most cases, people have no idea they have been exposed until well after the symptoms have hit; but if you believe you may be experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned, best to go straight to your doctor.