Western Australia’s Department of Health issued a release in June 2020 for building managers to maintain cooling towers and flush other water systems that may not have had regular use recently as a measure to prevent Legionnaires’ disease.
Particularly with COVID-19 lockdown restrictions easing and businesses reopening following closures, this reminder may be significant to building owners and occupiers, who also have an obligation to ensure cooling towers are properly maintained, as regulated by state or territory based legislation throughout Australia.
The warnings follow five cases of Legionnaires' disease notified to the Department of Health in metropolitan Perth. Safe Work Australia advises that in a workplace setting, Legionella infection typically arises when warm stagnant water is aerosolised (i.e. turned into water vapour, mist or steam) and is inhaled. Outbreaks have also been linked to untreated or contaminated cooling towers, which may be part of air conditioning systems in larger buildings and facilities including: hotels, hospitals, schools, aged care, factories with process cooling operations, shopping centres and various commercial premises.
About Legionnaires' disease
Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis, is an infection of the lungs (pneumonia) caused by the Legionella bacteria.
Symptoms can include fatigue, chills, muscle pains, headache, fever, non-productive cough, shortness of breath, nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea. Infection occurs when a person breathes in bacteria commonly found in the environment. There is no direct human-to-human transmission and Legionnaires’ disease has been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) to have a low attack rate – that is, infection is more likely to affect individuals with an underlying illness or a weakened immune system, including people with lung diseases, the elderly and smokers.
There are different species of Legionella bacteria, two commonly known are Legionella pneumophila (L. pneumophila) and Legionella longbeachae (L. longbeachae). L. pneumophila bacteria can contaminate air conditioning cooling towers, showers, eye baths and face-wash fountains, potable water systems and spa pools, ice machines and water distribution systems. L. longbeachae can be contaminate, soil, compost and potting mix. Exposure can occur at home, work or public areas.
Laboratory Testing for Legionella
Our Perth laboratory, MPL Laboratories is specialised in testing for Legionella. Accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) in accordance with the provisions of Australian Standard (AS) 3896 and 5132 (lower detection limit), you have the confidence that you are partnering with a laboratory that will provide you with quality results, which is critical for making informed decisions in the area of Legionella risk and water system risk management.
Our expert team conducts microbiological testing in the areas of water and hazmat and hygiene testing for a variety of clients and industries. Depending on your requirements, ask us today how we can tailor testing to your needs.
Additional resources and further information
Media Release: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Media-releases/2020/Legionnaires-Disease-reminder-for-metropolitan-Perth
For more information on Legionnaires Disease/Legionella infections contact your doctor, HealthyWA or government health authority in your state or territory.
WHO provides global facts and information on cause, transmission and symptoms about legionellosis.