The public awareness of the importance in treating water for bacteria has been on the rise. People are making it a higher priority to stay up to date with exactly what kinds of bacteria present a threat to them and how water purification is presenting a barrier for defence. It is an ongoing battle because new strains of bacteria arise on a consistent basis. One such bacteria to show a resurgence over the last year was the bacteria known as Legionella. This bacteria occurs naturally in a variety of water sources that are used to draw water for drinking. These sources include rivers, lochs, and reservoirs. In nature, the numbers of this bacteria occur in small amounts and do not pose a real threat of illness. However, the resurgence has come through the ability of Legionella bacteria to thrive in the water systems being put to use in our flats and in the office.

This bacteria can cause people to suffer from an illness that displays symptoms similar to the flu. Known as Legionnaires disease, this disease can be fatal if left untreated. Legionella can start to develop in places that rarely receive attention or maintenance. These breeding grounds of disease most often include hot water tanks, showering areas that are infrequently put to use, neglected toilets, and lavatory facilities that are not cleaned on a regular occasion but still exposed to high levels of moisture.

Some people are actually more susceptible than others when it comes to contracting Legionnaires disease from Legionella bacteria. People over the age of 45 and individuals with compromised immune systems are much more susceptible to infection. Lifestyle choices can also make a person more vulnerable. Those that smoke, consume excess amounts of alcohol, and anyone with kidney or respiratory diseases are much more likely to contract the illness. Britain saw an alarming outbreak of Legionnaires during the course of 2012. Southwest Edinburgh reported over one hundred cases and several deaths associated with the outbreak. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) review cited low standards in water control systems as the most likely candidate for the event.

Preventing further outbreaks largely falls on the shoulders of utility providers in the area. Systems that they install must have the necessary safeguards against the development of bacteria such as Legionella. The public is also encouraged to visit the (HSE) website to educate themselves on Legionnaires disease and the things that they can do to prevent the Legionella bacteria from posing a threat in their own water systems. Part of the battle certainly involves educating the public on the reality of the situation. Inspectors and health officials are planning on implementing a campaign aimed at that goal throughout 2013 and 2014. The officials will be going to service providers in order to ensure that safety standards are being maintained and verify that these providers are aware of the risks. The program will also include the publication of public safety notices and an annual check on services providers to ensure that they are in compliance with the new standards being set in place.

Employers and individuals are encouraged to act on their own, however, in order to ensure their own safety. Every individual must take responsibility for their own health. Doing this begins by assessing the level of risk. Risk assessment entails becoming familiar with the water system being used in the building and the various components that allow it to function. Gather the information that is relevant to how often cleaning and maintenance needs to be performed, and stick to the schedule outlined with your specific Legionella test kit.

Systems that are likely to present a greater threat include systems similar to the ones outlined below. Water that is stored for long periods of time or depend on the re-circulation of water allows more opportunities for Legionella bacteria to develop. Water that is in contact with rust, particulates, scale, and other kinds of build up or organic matter will pose a greater risk as well. People must also understand how much of a threat their water systems poses should it become infected. Water systems which have the ability to produce aerosols such as, showers, spa whirlpools, hot tubs & even windscreen washers can create the potential for spreading illness. A Legionella risk assessment also involves looking at the people who will be exposed to the water system. Facilities that serve older individuals or people that are likely to be sick already must be much more vigilant in their prevention efforts. Properly managing these kinds of risks is best done by someone that makes the task part of their normal duties. The business owner or an outside company are generally wise choices when it comes to taking an active approach to prevention. Eliminating this threat to public health is a task that must be carried out at both the government and individual level.

Author: +Duncan Hollis