Legionnaires’ disease can be contracted when a person breathes in tiny droplets of water containing bacteria that causes the infection. Initial symptoms include a cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, a high temperature and flu-light symptoms, but untreated Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal.
According to the NHS, it’s usually caught in places like hotels, hospitals or offices where the bacteria have got into the water supply.
As such, UK businesses and other services looking to reopen from Monday 29 March are being urged to carry out vital safety checks to avoid increasing the risk of the potentially fatal infection in their water supply.
With many businesses and buildings closed for months, the chances of bacteria forming in the water systems is more likely.
The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) has published guidance for businesses following the COVID-19 lockdown.
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This advice includes flushing cold water systems with fresh mains water as well as increasing the temperature of hot water systems to above 60°C.
There were 295 recorded cases of Legionnaire’s disease with symptom onset between January and October 2020, despite the closure of many businesses.
Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “We are all hopeful of a safe reopening of businesses in the coming weeks as we ease out of the national lockdown.
“However, many water systems will not have been used in a long time and should be checked to avoid any unnecessary risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which can be potentially deadly.”
“Councils will be able to provide additional advice for businesses and many will have materials on their websites.
“The CIEH also has a wealth of resources so ensure businesses understand the risks and how to mitigate them.”
Julie Barratt, President of CIEH, said: “Many businesses, large and small, will be gearing up to re-open and welcome customers back on 12 April.
“However, Legionnaire’s disease is a serious risk after such a prolonged period of closure for many businesses.
“Whether you run a hairdressing salon or a clothing shop, it is important to take a few simple steps to prevent the risks prior to business re-opening by flushing through water systems – especially any water tanks – at the appropriate temperatures.
“CIEH guidance published during the first lockdown provides a simple guide for all businesses.”
You cannot usually get Legionnaires’ disease from drinking water that contains the bacteria, other people with the infection, or places like ponds, lakes and rivers.
While it’s important to note the symptoms of the infection, the NHS advises getting advice from 111 immediately if:
- you cannot breathe properly
- you have chest pain
- you feel like you have severe flu
If you’re diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease you may need to go into hospital.
Treatment in hospital may include antibiotics given directly into a vein, oxygen through a face mask or tubes in your nose, and a machine to help you breathe.
If a person with the infection starts to get better they might be able to take antibiotic tablets at home, usually for one to three weeks.
Most people make a full recovery, but it might take a few weeks to feel back to normal.