Legionnaires’ disease cases prompt reminder for cooling tower checks

Following an increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease across Greater Sydney in December and January, NSW Health is reminding building owners to ensure cooling towers are properly maintained.

Seventeen cases of Legionnaires’ disease were notified across Sydney and in the Illawarra in January. NSW Health investigates each case and has not identified a specific source.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella pneumophila bacteria and can cause severe respiratory symptoms. Outbreaks have been linked to contaminated air conditioning plants in large buildings. The disease does not spread from person-to-person.

Director of Health Protection Dr Richard Broome said there is often an increase in the number of cases towards the end of summer, when the weather cools down and use of air conditioning systems start to change, but this year the increase has been larger than normal.

“Public Health Unit staff investigate each case of Legionnaire’s disease and no specific source has been identified,” said Dr Broome.

“However, it’s timely to remind businesses and building owners of their obligations under the Public Health Regulation 2012 to ensure their cooling towers are properly maintained.

Photo courtesy Goodway.com

If there is any possibility that a system is not operating correctly, it should be cleaned and an online disinfection procedure undertaken as soon as possible.”

In 2018, NSW Health strengthened the Public Health Regulation to reduce the community’s risk of Legionnaires’, requiring building owners to conduct monthly tests on cooling towers and notify high levels of Legionella and other bacteria to local councils.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease can develop up to 10 days after exposure to contaminated water particles in the air. Symptoms can be similar to those of COVID-19 and include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath. Legionnaires’ disease may lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.

“Legionnaire’s disease is diagnosed by chest x-ray and a urine test, and usually requires antibiotic treatment in hospital. If you have tested negative for COVID-19 but have ongoing or worsening symptoms, you should see your doctor or visit your local emergency department.”

For further information on Legionella control measures please contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 or visit: www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/legionellacontrol/Pages/default.aspx

For more information on Legionnaires’ disease visit: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/legionnaires_disease.aspx