In industries often touted as underfunded, many healthcare and aged care providers operate from ageing facilities, often decades old.
As such, these premises can contain complicated networks of old or disused pipes, making them ideal breeding grounds for Legionella colonisation.
While the majority of past outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease has been linked to cooling towers, it is nothing but sobering to consider that such outbreaks have been community-acquired infections, and almost all of hospital-acquired Legionella infections have been found to have their source in potable water, with microaspiration the major cause of transmission.
Who is most at risk of legionella infection?
While Legionella infection can occur in healthy people, at particular risk are those aged over 50 (making up 80% of cases), heavy drinkers and smokers, diabetics, and people with weakened immune systems, respiratory illnesses or chronic lung disease or other diseases, given their already compromised health.
Newborn babies (particularly from water-births) are similarly at risk. In health and aged care facilities, given the already potentially fragile health of the client, the mortality rate from infection can be as high as 40%.
It is therefore of particular importance that healthcare and aged care facilitators are adequately covered and protected from the dangers of an outbreak.
Where does legionella bacteria thrive?
Legionella bacteria can live in water between 20-50 degrees Celsius, yet it is at the ideal temperature of 35 degrees that is thrives and colonises. The bacterium is commonly found within biofilm growing in water systems.
Aged or poorly maintained plumbing systems provide ideal conditions for the bacteria, and hospitals and aged care facilities in particular offer ideal environments for infection, as water temperatures are often set to levels to avoid scalding (below 49 degrees Celsius).
The exact level of infection throughout the world is unclear and difficult to determine due to many countries lacking appropriate methods of detection and reporting, however within the USA, Europe and Australia, the World Health Organization believes the ratio of infection is between 10-15 people per million, and these are countries with systems in place to detect and prevent such outbreaks.
Within the realm of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease, the risks of infection increase due to the age and health complications of the clients.
These can include patients recovering from surgery, immuno-compromised patients (such as recipients of organ transplants or cancer patients), those who have undergone intubation or require nasogastric tubes or mechanical ventilation, etc…
Any patient with a weakened or compromised immune system or pre-existing condition or disease is at potential risk of Legionnaires’ disease causing fatality.
Protecting your facility
As every building and plumbing network varies, each organisation has a duty of care to ensure proper measures are in place to prevent contamination of their water by Legionella.
Each system of prevention must be tailored to the building in question and its water system, and should include the testing and controlled treatment of its supply to reduce the risk of infection through regular cleaning and disinfection, and the implementation of temperature or biocide measures to prevent colonisation.
No building or water system is completely safe; 3 people died in 2012 after becoming infected from a decorative fountain in a Chicago hotel lobby, and even the iconic Playboy Mansion has had its outbreak (but then, who knows what’s growing in those spas).
Prevention of Legionnaires’ disease relies on applying controlled measures to minimise the growth of Legionella and dissemination of aerosols.
These measures include proper maintenance of devices, including regular cleaning and disinfection, and applying other physical (temperature) or the use chemical measures (biocide) to prevent any cases or outbreaks, along with greater precautions in place for patience at heightened risk of infection due to diminished health or other complications.
While Legionella may ever be present in nature and water, we are equipped with the methods and bound by obligation as carers to ensure the safety of the water we supply and the health of those we care for.
HydroChem: Water Treatment services you can depend on
As the only Australian water treatment company with all three accreditations, our clients come to rely on us for our exacting standards, professional and customer focused approach and ability to consistently improve their bottom line while enhancing and improving upon their water treatment processes.
To discover how we can help with Legionella Detection and Risk Management, request an appointment with one of our consultants today.