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Legionnaire’s Disease: The basics

The bacterium known as Legionella has become one of the most talked about topics in the hospitality, healthcare and long term care facilities as well as the construction industry as of late. The subject matter is an important one, as there are substantial health ramifications that pose potentially serious safety and legal problems.

Large and commercial HVAC systems and potable water systems have long been identified as culprits in the spread of the bacteria. Developers and contractors must be cognizant of this dynamic moving forward. The bacteria Legionella is found everywhere, typically associated with bodies of water, aquatic  environments and wet areas.

Specific serotypes of the species Legionella Pneumophila have been known to cause Legionnaires’ disease. The disease can be hospital acquired, community acquired or travel related. A likely source of Legionella infection is from potable water systems that become colonized by the microorganism. However, routine surveillance of water, with sampling of water for Legionella via routine cultures remains a controversial issue. This is because the organisms are ubiquitous in potable water systems and positive environmental cultures do not necessarily correlate with outbreaks of infection.

The bacteria became notorious after outbreaks of the disease killed hundreds of people around the East Coast in the 1970’s. The topic is important to construction professionals as two of the most common places Legionella is found is cooling towers and large central air-conditioning systems. The bacterium thrives in stagnant warm water and causes disease when people inhale contaminated mist or vapor. This becomes very problematic for the HVAC industry.

For more information on Legionella and resources for preventing, identifying, or treating the issue, contact the Cogency TEAM.

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