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What Causes Legionella In Water

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  • What Causes Legionella In Water, Legionella and Water Supply Systems, What is Legionella, What Causes Legionella, How It Spreads
  • Posted date:
  • 21-04-2022
What Causes Legionella In Water

What causes Legionella in water? This article looks at the dangers and causes of Legionella in your water systems. Find out how you can prevent Legionella in your water.

Legionella and Water Supply Systems

When you turn on a tap, it's fair to say that you expect clean and safe water. The issue can be that potable and non-potable water supply systems can be difficult to maintain and keep safe. 

The infrastructure of the underground water supply systems becomes outdated as they age; this is due to the newer water systems and the lower flow rates that keep water in the pipes for a longer period of time.

The primary cause of these waterborne diseases is OPPPs (opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens). These are waterborne microorganisms that normally inhabit premise plumbing. Water supply systems should be tested for Legionella growth on a monthly basis.

The tests should consist of checking the water flow and returning temperatures at water heaters. A way of doing this testing is using a surface temperature probe, and the outgoing water has to be at least 60 °C for it to kill off the Legionella bacteria. So controlling temperature is the primary method of controlling the risk of Legionella. 

Preventing contamination in the water supply systems from the Legionella bacteria can be a difficult task. The best way to deal with the problem and reduce the risk is to design, implement, and update a safety plan for the entire building water system.

What is Legionella?

Found in freshwater sources, including lakes and rivers, Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria. In these sources, Legionella is only present in small amounts and does not generally lead to disease. 

Legionella can rise to dangerous levels under specific conditions, and this gets contracted through the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water through vapours and mist. In 1976, Legionella was discovered in the building water supply of a Philidelphia hotel. 

It happened during a meeting of the U.S. Bicentennial Convention of the American Legion, where over 200 people had contracted it; this is where the name Legionnaires disease came about.

A severe form of pneumonia, Legionnaires disease causes lung inflammation, which is commonly caused by an infection. There are a variety of symptoms that are caused by Legionnaires disease. These can include:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches 
  • Chills 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain 
  • Fever 
  • Various gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and vomiting

The disease can last for a few weeks or even several days, and it is important to seek medical attention as some types may be life-threatening. The bacteria grow in water and are not visible to the naked eye, as well as the water droplets that carry the bacteria are not visible to the naked eye.

What Causes Legionella

There are a variety of things that can cause Legionella to form. In terms of water supply systems, there are multiple causes of Legionella. Water ageing while sitting in a pipe or water system, there is a higher chance that a pathogen will grow within. 

Biofilm is also another cause of Legionella; Biofilm is a substance created by bacteria. Biofilm is sticky, so it sticks to the walls of the piping of the water supply system, and that, in turn, helps protect Legionella from the heat and disinfectant.

Legionella is also assisted in growing when present in lukewarm water. The common temperatures that allow the bacteria to grow are between 25°C and 42.2°C. Water that isn't flowing or has a rare flow can be another cause for Legionella to grow; this is called a "Dead Leg". 

A lack of sufficient disinfectant can also allow the growth of the Legionella bacteria. Using effective disinfectant strategies is important when controlling Legionella in a water system. Commonly chlorination is a method used to disinfect drinking water.

Corrosion is a problem that water supply piping faces, and when this isn't controlled adequately, it can create the perfect environment for the bacteria to grow and thrive. 

Corrosion can occur when using disinfectants, water temperature and the pH levels of the water within the pipe. Cross connections that occur between non-potable and potable water sources can cause Legionella to travel into a potable water supply system.

Legionella can be found in multiple man-made water systems. These can include:

  • Showerheads and sink faucets 
  • Cooling towers 
  • Hot tubs 
  • Decorative fountains and water features 
  • Hot water tanks and heaters 
  • Large, complex plumbing systems

How It Spreads

Once Legionella has grown and multiplied in the water system, the water containing Legionella can spread through small droplets that people can breathe them in. When people breathe these droplets in, this can cause them to develop Legionnaires disease. 

A less common way that people can get sick is through the aspiration of drinking water; this can happen when accidentally allowing water into the lungs while drinking water. This can be a bigger risk for people who have conditions that cause swallowing difficulties.

Legionnaires disease doesn't usually get spread from person to person, it may be possible, but this is an extremely rare occurrence. 

Talking to your doctor is important if you are believed to have been exposed to Legionella. 

There is also a potential of getting Legionnaires disease from the Legionella bacteria forming and growing in an air conditioning unit, although there are air conditioning units that do not use water to cool the air and therefore don't pose a threat of the bacteria forming. 

It is important to remember that places like ponds, lakes and rivers do not pose a threat of contracting the bacteria.

Other issues may occur when facing similar issues; this includes the contraction of the bacteria and its forming into Pontiac fever. The most common way of getting Pontiac fever is because of a Legionella infection. Pontiac fever is similar to severe flu.

Who is at Increased Risk

When a healthy person is exposed to the bacteria, they are less likely to get sick from it. There are some circumstances where people can be considered at a higher risk of getting sick from Legionella. Legionnaires disease can be life-threatening and dangerous, and people who are at risk should take serious care and contact health professionals if concerned.

People who are aged 50 and older can be considered an increased risk. Other people include current or former smokers, a person with chronic respiratory disease, a person with a weakened immune system, people who take drugs that weaken the immune system, a person with cancer, and other underlying illnesses including diabetes, liver failure or kidney disease.

People with a higher risk of contracting the bacteria need to take extra precautions. Another high-risk person would be somebody who has recently gone through an organ transplant procedure. Taking care to prevent Legionella from spreading and growing should be a high priority, especially in a household with high-risk people.

Do you require Legionella Risk Assessment ? We offer services to both domestic and commercial customers Uppingham, Oakham, Stamford and Rutland. Our charges are highly competitive and realistic. If you are experiencing problems with your central heating - Please contact us.