Legionnaires Outbreak in Edinburgh - June 2012

There has been extensive coverage in all sections of the press regarding the outbreak of Legionnaires Disease in Edinburgh.
As of Saturday 9th June there have been 80 cases of the potentially fatal disease linked to the outbreak.
36 cases of infection have been confirmed with another 44 cases of suspected infection.

The disease has so far claimed the life of a 55 year old male and left 15 people in intensive care. Although those in intensive care may recover from the initial infection, Legionellosis (the name given to any Legionella infection) can leave victims with serious long term respiratory health problems.

The cause of the outbreak has not yet, and may never be, positively identified. However, the spread of the infection points to the source being linked with industrial cooling systems operated by factories.

All cooling towers in the area have instigated shock disinfection procedures, and the Northern British Distillery has shut down its cooling plant as a precautionary measure. The distillery has also been issued with an ‘improvement order’ by the Health and Safety Executive for alleged failures to adequately control the risk of Legionellosis from its cooling plant. However, this action does not mean that the Northern British Distillery has been identified as the source of infection.

Legionnaires Disease is caused by a type of bacterium called Legionella. Over 50 different species of Legionella have been catalogued since the bacterium was first identified as the cause of disease in humans in 1977. Legionellosis cannot be transmitted from person to person, its most common path of infection is by inhalation of tiny airborne droplets of water (aerosols) containing the bacteria. Once in the lungs of a victim the bacteria proliferate and cause the pneumonia like illness. Once it has been identified the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Legionella bacteria are found in many manmade water systems. These systems can offer the ideal conditions for its growth, and systems that produce aerosols such as cooling towers are at greater risk of spreading infection. The risks posed by Legionella is wholly preventable and if correct control procedures are followed reduced or the possibility of infection can be prevented.