The Western Australia government is reminding building managers to maintain cooling towers and flush other water systems that may not have had regular use recently – including showers, emergency eye baths, spas, fountains and ice machines – to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.
The warnings follow five cases of Legionnaires’ disease notified to the Department of Health in metropolitan Perth.
Legionnaires’ disease is a serious and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia caused by breathing in Legionella bacteria in very fine droplets of water (aerosols).
WA’s A/Executive Director, Environmental Health, Dr Michael Lindsay, says no common source of infection between the cases has been confirmed, however, the investigations are ongoing.
“It is a timely reminder that building operators need to properly maintain cooling towers and other water systems,” says Dr Lindsay.
“Many buildings have experienced significantly reduced occupancy or been closed completely as a result of COVID-19.
“When cooling towers or water pipes have not been in use for an extended period, stagnant water can create opportunities for Legionella bacteria to grow, leading to an increased risk of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when the systems are switched on again.”
The Department is recommending that building managers seek advice from a water treatment provider to ensure correct maintenance of their cooling towers and water systems.
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath and may lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.
As the Department points out, early symptoms of Legionnaires’ Disease can be similar to symptoms of COVID-19, so it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
The New South Wales government issued similar advice recently, in response to a rise in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease. Industry bodies have also highlighted the importance of correctly restarting building services that have been in hibernation during COVID-19 restrictions.