Legionnaire’s disease can be a fatal form of pneumonia, and some people may be more susceptible to it than others. Those who may be at higher risk for getting Legionnaire’s are heavy smokers and drinkers, people with impaired immune systems, anyone suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease, and people over 45 years old. People can get the disease by inhaling droplets of water that contain the legionella bacteria.

Exposure may happen from multiple water systems — most notably in showers. According to the Health and Safety Executive, certain conditions can pave the way for the legionella bacteria to grow, like when the water temperature is between 20 - 45 °C. While there are antibiotics to treat infection, an ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, would still be a better way to go. And prevention is generally achieved through risk assessments and tests for legionella bacteria.

A risk assessment will determine your business’s risk from exposure to legionella and it can be carried out by a contractor according to the required standards or you could do it, provided you have the sufficient knowledge and experience in managing health and safety. Testing may be done through sampling methods, which are made possible through a legionella testing kit. Water samples have to be processed by a UKAS-accredited laboratory and their minimum detection limit should be 100 legionella bacteria per litre of sample.

Testing has to be carried out quarterly for open water systems such as cooling towers, spa pools, and evaporative condensers. Meanwhile, testing for legionella bacteria in hot and cold water systems that are not exposed to the elements (e.g., pipework, storage tanks, showerheads, etc.) should be carried out periodically, or as determined by the risk assessment.

Other considerations for prompting a test for legionella bacteria includes water systems that have been treated with biocides where distribution temperatures have been intentionally reduced; when an outbreak may be suspected; in hospital wards that have patients who are at risk, and in buildings wherein occupants may have a higher susceptibility to Legionnaire’s.

Testing kits for legionella bacteria may vary, depending on which water systems will need sampling. But it should be stressed that an accredited company must carry out analyses for the samples taken. When purchasing testing kits for legionella, you’ll be given sterile bottles with which to fill with your water samples. Procedures for taking samples will also differ depending on the water system. Once your samples have been collected, the company can pick it up and take it to their laboratory for analysis.

Testing for legionella bacteria is a good way to prevent Legionnaire’s Disease. With the right testing kit and an accredited and credible company performing analysis, you can find out whether the potentially dangerous bacteria is lurking about in your home or place of business and you can then take the necessary actions.

+Duncan Hollis