Legionnaires’ disease may not affect a lot of people but it’s a serious health risk today. Even medical facilities like hospitals and clinics are also vulnerable to it.
As a dentist, you shouldn’t take the legionella threat lightly. It’s true that exposure doesn’t always mean people will get sick with this disease. Some, however, are more susceptible than others. These people include:
- The elderly
- heavy smokers or those who used to be one
- those who suffer from serious illness such as cancer
- those with weaker immune systems
Conducting periodic water tests for Legionella makes sense for medical professionals like you. First, it will help you avoid potential legal liabilities. Second, you gain the trust of your patients. Here are several reasons on why you should test your dental water lines :
1. To confirm if the risk assessment was adequate.
As a healthcare provider, you’re required by law to conduct a risk assessment. Having one shows that you’re following the rules but is this enough? It’s always possible that your clinic may harbour the bacteria despite carrying out all precautions.
Once you test the dental water lines, you’ll know if the safeguards you take are working. If they are not, you’ll need to update your risk assessment.
2. To protect patients and staff
Clinics are not open every day. They are usually closed at night, weekends and holidays. Since no one is using the water, it becomes stagnant. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of water where Legionella multiply. This bacteria’s favorite breeding ground is in the plastic tubing of the waterline.
It can infect your patients through their mouth sores or wounds. You and your staff could also contract it while you’re working on a patient. To prevent such a scenario, buy a Legionella testing kit to check for any signs of the bacteria. Do this every time the clinic’s water has become stagnant for a long time.
As a precaution:
- Run the water lines for at least two minutes before you start the session. If in-between patients, run it at least for 20 seconds. For compliance and legal purposes keep a checklist of this activity.
- Empty, disconnect, clean and store all bottles in the inverted position before you close for the day.
- Use a separate bottled water system
- Don’t use tap water to fill the bottles. This will prevent taking in any possible bacteria coming from the mains supply.
3. To prevent Legionella bacteria colonies from spreading
The mere presence of the bacteria doesn’t mean that people will instantly get sick. Most healthy people can fight off the disease and don’t show serious symptoms, however those with issues as stated above can die. Regular testing of the dental water lines will confirm if you’re control regime is sufficient.
4. To determine if there’s a need for decontamination
Small amounts of Legionella and other bacteria in the water system won’t set any alarms yet. If the bacteria are below 100 Colony Forming Units (CFU), your waters system is still considered safe. If the CFU, however, is higher than that you’ll need to decontaminate the water supply.
5. No water treatment is 100 percent effective
It’s recommended that hot water pipes maintain a temperature of 60C or above. This measure, however, is not always possible due to several factors. There’s also the issue of possible scalding due to the heat.
In recent years, clinics are using various methods to eliminate the potential presence of the bacteria. Some are using UV light, chlorine, ionisation, and other methods. While each method is effective in eliminating the bacteria, none can guarantee 100 percent effectiveness.
For example, any bacteria hit by UV light radiation will die. Its effectiveness, however, is limited to the entry or exit point of the water supply. The radiation can’t circulate throughout the water system and the bacteria remain. By doing regular water tests, you can gauge the effectiveness of your control regime.
How to Use the Kit
The testing kit will contain sterile bottles which you fill from your dental water lines. The bottles are then collected by courier and transported to the UKAS accredited laboratory. Final results are available following 10 days incubation, however, should any bacteria grow prior to this point, you will be notified immediately.
It is a very straightforward test to conduct and should be undertaken in line with the recommendations made in your Risk Assessment; every six months is common, except in certain situations like:
- A Legionnaires’ disease outbreak
- A new water treatment system is established
- Your clinic is near a property where the bacteria was found
If any of these scenarios occur, you should test the water supply immediately.
If you’re looking for a reliable supplier of these kits or want to know more, contact the people at AquaCert.