Hotels, a home away from home for business people and vacationers, with over 4 million hotels in the world, over a million people coming and going from them every day, who would think that they would get sick or even die from a hotel stay. It does happen though. This last summer, three people died from staying at a hotel in Chicago. The reason, they were exposed to Legionnaires disease.
If you are like me, thinking that Legionnaires disease is a thing of the past, or at least something that is not caught by normal activities, then we leave ourselves open to exposure of a very dangerous disease, one that is still very present in today’s society. According to OSHA, about 1000 cases are reported to the CDC annually, there is estimated over 25,000 cases of Legionnaires disease that go unreported in the US every year, up to 4,000 resulting in death. Though this disease is not always fatal, it can be to those with compromised immune systems, the elderly, or the very young.
Legionella is the name of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease. This bacterium is found almost anywhere, including in natural soil and water. In small doses, Legionella is not harmful. However, if conditions are just right the bacteria multiply to dangerous levels and then can cause an atypical bacterial pneumonia, a more severe form of pneumonia. This happens most often in the warmer months of the year when businesses and hotels need to use their air conditioning, though cooling towers are not the only source of Legionella. Indoor water fountains, like in the case of the hotel in Chicago, spas, pools, even sometimes shower heads and water heaters, these all are places where Legionella can grow and multiply to dangerous levels.
Legionnaires disease can often be connected with people travelling, not that it is spread from person to person, but that it is contracted by breathing in contaminated mist or vapours from contaminated sources. Because Legionnaires disease is form a bacterium, it can be traced back to its origination site. This means that lawsuits are often filed and usually settled out of court.
Since Legionella is present almost everywhere, how can a person sue a hotel or company because they contracted Legionnaires disease? Actually, it is because the bacteria are able to multiply to dangerous levels due to the business or hotel not properly maintaining and monitoring safety guidelines. With monitoring and proper cleaning of the possible sources of Legionella, hotels and businesses can make sure that the bacterium does not grow to dangerous levels. Regular testing can help foreworn and prevent excessive levels as well. Many times pools and spas do not have the proper level of chlorination, or their pipes have rust and corrosion, even the warm temperature of the water invites the growth of Legionella. Sometimes due to budget constraints, maintenance is not up to par. There have even been cases where companies have faked their reports.
So what can hotels and companies do to protect the public from the disease and themselves from lawsuits? The first thing that needs to be done is an assessment of all the equipment to find out what is at risk for bacteria growth. Once the equipment at risk has been determined, make sure to set up a close monitoring system and stick to it. Cleaning should be done on a regular schedule. Certain components need cleaned yearly, others need cleaned monthly. In America the OSHA and the CDC have guidelines on when certain equipment should be cleaned and how, in the UK we have the HSE. There are also websites that offer a breakdown of how often equipment like cooling towers, spas or showers should be cleaned and systematic instructions on how to perform them.
In the UK there are companies that will send you collection kits for hotels so the business can collect the samples of water, send it in, and have it tested. In the US, there are labs that offer testing after you have collected the samples, but they do not seem to offer collection kits like in the UK. It seems as though the UK focuses more on prevention methods, where as the US focuses more on prevention classes. Guidelines in the United States do not seem to be as uniform as they are in the UK, so until the US has more uniform guidelines, the risk of a Legionnaires disease outbreak is likely. Annual testing, general maintenance, and thorough cleaning will help prevent outbreaks and lawsuits.
Author: +Duncan Hollis