Legionnaire’s disease is said to be a “traitor” illness. It contradicts the common notion that you can get sick if you spend time in a dirty, unsanitary place. You can pick it up at the very places where you’re supposed to feel safe or have fun or just attend to mundane everyday tasks. Hospitals and nursing homes, spas and indoor pools, supermarkets, decorative fountains, gardens and greenhouses – these are just some of the seemingly innocent places where you can get infected by the highly harmful legionella bacteria.

In the U.S., where the disease acquired its name (the first reported outbreak infected members of the American Legion attending a conference in Philadelphia), the number of infections per year are pegged at 10,000 to 50,000. To help contain, reduce and prevent future outbreaks, national and local agencies as well as private businesses have long come up with guidelines on Legionella testing, investigation, disease treatment and prevention. They continue to update these policies as needed, depending on the developments on the spread and strain of the disease.  

The guidelines may vary a bit per state, locality or organisation depending on several factors, including the history and nature of the area or facility, population profile, risk level as determined by universal guidelines, structure and use of water tanks and pipelines, among others. But there are general guidelines that are commonly applied across geographic locations and venues.  

Guidelines on Legionella prevention in the U.S. highlight the importance of being highly aware of the risk factors involved. When investigating a suspected case, those with the following particulars are given more focus: the patient has recently travelled and has spent at least one night away from home; he or she has been exposed to a whirlpool spa or a heated swimming facility; and he or she may have one of the medical conditions determined as high risk for complications when infected with Legionella, including diabetes, immune system disorders, renal failure, certain types of cancer and congestive heart failure. Males, individuals aged 65 years and above, and smokers are likewise considered high risk.   

Water sampling is another main item in Legionella prevention guidelines not just in the U.S., but also around the world. The sample must be properly collected, stored and delivered according to established protocols to the right lab testing facility at the right time in order to ensure accurate results. For a more convenient and therefore more consistent and compliant water collecting and testing process, home owners and facility managers can make use of water testing kits that come complete with the tools and instructions that prevent missteps and misinformation and ensure precise and timely detection of Legionella bacteria in the water.

+Duncan Hollis