The Hidden Dangers of Legionella Bacteria in Workplace Water Systems

05/04/2020

Has your building shut down or reduced operations due to COVID-19? If so, you may be putting your employees or building occupants in danger, especially if your water system has been stagnant, or has had low flow during the shutdown.

With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, businesses such as hotels, office towers, manufacturing plants, and educational establishments, have been encouraged (or forced) to shut down for social distancing. As a result, shut-down water systems can provide the perfect environment for Legionella bacteria to grow. There are two factors that can cause this problem:

1. Stagnant water: Stagnation can occur in hot and cold water systems, irrigation systems, cooling systems, and cold water storage tanks. This can increase the growth of biofilms and free-floating bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria such as Legionella.
2. Low water use: fewer employees working in buildings can lead to lower water flow than the building’s water system was designed to support. Legionella bacteria can thrive in these low-flow zones.

People who breathe in water vapor contaminated with Legionella are at risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease, a severe pneumonia that kills 1 in 10 people infected. According to the National Academy of Sciences of Medicine (NESM), 70,000 people are infected with Legionnaires’ disease in the US alone and most cases are not reported or misdiagnosed. Legionella is now one of the top 5 pathogens causing the most disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and only one of 4 that has both a high population and high individual burden of disease (the other 3 are HIV, tuberculosis, and invasive pneumococcal disease).

To reduce the risk of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, here are three preventative measures to keep your business and employees safe:

1. Increase Legionella testing: Regular Legionella testing enables early detection and remediation of contamination before the bacteria grow out of control.
2. Have a water safety plan: This will implement processes and safeguards for managing the reduced flow of water. Consider all sources of water in a building, not just the hot and cold water and cooling systems.
3. Disinfect the water system before re-opening: Consider disinfecting your system before bringing it back into operation to prevent the aerosolization of Legionella bacteria.

Traditional Legionella testing methods have inherent deficiencies that can endanger companies, employees and clients. Culture-based testing is sent off to a lab and takes 10-14 days to get a result. This is too slow because Legionella can grow to outbreak levels in as few as 7 days. Also, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that certified culture testing labs underestimate the amount of Legionella in water samples by an average of 17-fold and results differ between labs by 6-fold.

It’s time to be proactive about preventing Legionnaires’ disease. Spartan Bioscience has developed the world’s first on-site Legionella DNA test. It provides highly-accurate results in just 45 minutes and may be operated by non-technical personnel. The test is the winner of the HVAC industry’s top innovation award for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and customers include expert organizations such as the CDC and New York State Department of Health. Learn more at www.spartanbio.com.

As first seen in Tomorrow’s Health & Safety: https://content.yudu.com/web/1jybr/0A1vxp9/THSApril2020/html/index.html?page=16&origin=reader

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