Legionnaires’ Disease Takes On Syndey, Australia

Legionnaires’ disease strikes in Syndey’s central business district (CBD), and the disease has the city’s residents on alert, as four men lay hospitalized.

New South Wales Health(NSW Health) is investigating a legionnaires’ disease case, as what could be deemed an outbreak. NSW Health mentioned that three elderly men contracted legionnaires’ disease after exposure in Syndey’s CBD. Likewise, the Sydney Morning Herald notes a fourth man in his 30s who is also hospitalized from legionnaires’ disease.

According to NSW Health‘s report, the main investigation location is at Town Hall. It’s believed that the men were introduced to malicious Legionella bacteria via the air ducts. The agency feels that the legionnaires’ disease culprit comes from the CBD’s cooling towers, and has been coming through ventilation as “contaminated air conditioning.”

It’s possible that these cooling systems haven’t been well-maintained as proper treatment dictates. The Sydney Morning Herald notes that businesses are supposed to have their ventilation and cooling systems inspected monthly. Likewise, they’re supposed to be cleaned every six months, and certified every year.

According to NSW Health‘s Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, legionnaires’ disease bacteria can live and multiply in the cooling system’s water. She adds, “So, infection is prevented by routinely maintaining and treating these systems.”

The doctor further elaborates that people with legionnaires’ disease can become infected when these contaminated waters are emitted into the air via the coolant systems. And, when Legionella infection occurs, proper treatment comes by antibiotic medication within a hospital. However, before legionnaires’ disease is confirmed, patients are tested via chest x-ray and urine sample.

According to the doctor, exposure symptoms can be “fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath.” Also, these legionnaires’ disease symptoms may take between two and 10 days to become obvious.

Nevertheless, the Sydney Morning Herald also reports that the city has stepped in and agreed to help with the legionnaires’ disease containment as much as possible. The source quotes the city of Sydney as follows.

“The City is assisting NSW Health with the investigation and sampling of a number of cooling towers in the city center. The City is also providing facilities and resources to enable the operation to be carried out as quickly as possible. Any samples will be sent for analysis to a state government-owned laboratory.”

It’s quintessential for patients to receive immediate treatment for legionnaires’ disease because it’s actually a form of pneumonia. According to NSW Health, legionnaires’ disease is only contracted when someone inhales the bacteria via open exposure. It’s not a contagion.

Likewise, there are various other venues from which legionnaires’ disease is contracted — whether home, work, or open public. Given the different species of the Legionella bacterium, contamination avenues range widely from shower heads, whirlpool spas, and cooling systems to contaminated soil and potting mix. Exposure isn’t limited to water vapor only.

The agency also advises extra precautions when handling potting mix, as to avoid the onset complications of legionnaires’ disease. According to the source, potting mix handlers should always wear gloves, a facial mask, along with other protective gear. The handler should also “wet down” the mix in order to minimize dust. As long as the bacteria is inhaled, legionnaires’ disease is probable — whether its exposure is from vapor or dust. If it gets into the lungs, pneumonia is a possibility.

The source also notes that, occasionally, legionnaires’ disease is fatal. However, most infected individuals recover when it’s diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. Along with the aforementioned symptoms, legionnaires’ disease also has a few others that are less common, yet still indicative. Those symptoms are: muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Interestingly enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives a brief history of legionnaires’ disease. According to the source, it states as follows.

“Legionella was discovered after an outbreak in 1976 among people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion. Those who were affected suffered from a type of pneumonia (lung infection) that eventually became known as Legionnaires’ disease.”

All in all, how quickly do you think Sydney will contain legionnaires’ disease exposure before it truly becomes a city-wide outbreak? Have you ever, personally, dealt with legionnaires’ disease? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

[Photo by Janice Haney Carr/AP Images]