What is Legionella: Risks and Testing

Life Sciences

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a group of bacteria commonly found in natural water sources like rivers and lakes. However, it becomes a cause for concern when it multiplies in man-made water systems such as cooling towers, old or retired plumbing systems and air conditioning units. The bacteria thrive in warm water, making these systems ideal breeding grounds.

If Legionella is breathed in, there then becomes a risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease, which is a severe form of pneumonia – lung inflammation usually caused by infection.

How is Legionella spread?

Once Legionella has multiplied in a building’s water system, the potential for spread arises. The primary mode of transmission is in the form of tiny droplets, small enough to breathe in, leading to the inhalation of the bacteria and subsequent infection.

In addition to airborne transmission, illness can occur through the consumption of drinking water. This happens when Legionella-contaminated water inadvertently enters the lungs while drinking, typically caused by coughing or choking while drinking.

It is important to note that, generally, Legionnaires’ disease is not typically transmitted from person to person. However, under rare circumstances, such transmission may be possible. Knowing the risks of Legionella infection and spread, you can implement targeted measures to mitigate risk and prevent further infection.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be at risk of Legionnaires’ disease, but there are groups that are at higher risk. Individuals over 50 years old, smokers, immunocompromised people, and those with chronic lung diseases are particularly vulnerable.

The Legionella bacteria can also cause Pontiac fever, a milder illness similar to the flu. Pontiac fever usually clears on its own, however Legionnaires’ disease left untreated could be fatal. Although fast treatment with antibiotics usually cures Legionnaires’ disease, some people continue to have problems after treatment.

How do I test for Legionella?

Regular testing for Legionella is essential to identify potential risks and prevent outbreaks. Water samples from the suspected sources are collected and analysed for the presence of Legionella bacteria. Professional testing services can provide accurate results and help in formulating an appropriate action plan.

For information on how to remove Legionella from your supply, and understand how you can prevent and stop the growth of this harmful bacteria, click here!