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Legionnaires disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which was first identified and takes its name, from an outbreak during a convention of the American Legion in 1976. The disease is caused by the Legionella Bacteria which are also responsible for the similar but less serious conditions such as Pontiac Fever.
While commonly found in low numbers in natural water such as reservoirs, rivers and lakes, the risk of the Legionella bacteria causing illness, is greater where water is maintained at a temperature high enough to encourage growth, for example cooling towers used for air conditioning, hot and cold water systems, spa pools or anywhere with a complex water system.
Everyone is susceptible to infection, although, some people are at higher risk, including those who smoke, drink heavily or are over the age of 45 years, this also includes people who suffer from chronic respiratory or kidney disease and anyone with an impaired immune system. The disease is contracted by inhalation of small droplets of water suspended in the air which contain the bacteria, these can be created by a cooling tower or water outlets, the risk is increased where water temperature in all of some of the system may be between 20 to 45 degrees centigrade.
Symptoms of Legionnaires' Disease can include coughing, shortness of breath, a high fever, headaches and muscle aches, it can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other types of pneumonia.
Under general health and safety legislation, a person, employer or landlord has a right of duty to take suitable precautions to prevent or control the risk of exposure to legionella. This includes introducing controls which do not permit the multiplication of organisms in the water systems and to reduce where ever possible exposure to water droplets and aerosol.
It is a responsibility to conduct regular risk assessments to help maintain and remove any potential risks by implementing measures to either eliminate or control risks. It is important to be competent while carrying out this assessment yourself, although, it is recommended to ask someone in the profession or capacity with the necessary skills to conduct a risk assessment. This can be someone within the organisation or an external consultant.