The Ugly Truth About Legionella

National Water Quality Month is a reminder to take a look at how our communities value the importance of water and how our actions or lack there of can greatly affect water quality. What’s most concerning in recent years is the lack of education that has lead us down the road towards lower water quality and even unsafe water in places such as schools, hospitals, and other facilities. Legionnaires disease is a hot topic today and outbreaks across the US have grown by 4.5 times since 2000. (National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System). 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in 2015 alone (CDC). This is the beginning of a water quality epidemic.

Legionella Growth Rate

The growing concern toward water related diseases have initiated researchers to get the bottom of the problem. Findings? In many cases there was a direct relation between the disease and water piping systems. With the increasing amount of water related diseases, the Center for Diseases Control & Prevention (CDC) states, keeping Legionella out of water systems in buildings is key to preventing infections.

Causes and Common Sources of Infection

Complex water systems commonly found in hospitals, hotels and cruise ships are often at risk for outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.

Likely sources of infection include:

  • Showers and faucets
  • Large plumbing systems
  • Decorative water features
  • Cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings)

How it Spreads

According to the CDC, after Legionella grows and multiplies in a building’s water system, that contaminated water then has to spread in droplets small enough for people to breath in. People can get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria.

People at Increased Risk

Most healthy people who are exposed to Legionella do not get sick, however, there are people who are more susceptible:

  • People 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with chronic lung disease
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure or liver failure

Developing a Water Management Plan: Reduce Legionella Growth & Spread in Buildings

Reducing Legionella growth and spread in buildings through a Water Management Plan set by ASHREA Standard 188 is imperative. In states such as Florida, the health department is requiring facilities to adhere to the ASHREA Standard 188.

Highlights from the ASHREA Standard 188:

  • Aid in meeting standard risk requirements
  • Identify high-risk areas
  • Assist in developing a risk management team
  • Develop control strategies for program

Water Management Plans are the first step towards improving not only the quality of water but also water piping systems. Luckily, with new standards such as the ASHREA Standard 188 and regulations set in place by the CDC and other regulating organizations water related diseases from water piping systems can be prevented and controlled.

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