As the coronavirus closed so many businesses, schools, and leisure and entertainment companies earlier in the year, the risks of providing a breeding ground for the legionella bacteria increased because water and air conditioning systems were left unused. COVID-19 dominated press reports over the summer, and there was some confusion around aspects of the virus and legionella bacteria. Here’s our round-up of news stories relating to legionella in August.
In America in the second half of August, it was widely rumoured that legionella can be spread through the use of face masks. People had been posting stories on social media claiming they had contracted Legionnaires’ disease through the repeated use of face masks. The educational non-profit organisation Legionella.org was firm in stating why this could not be the case: “You cannot contract Legionnaires’ disease from wearing face masks. Legionella bacteria is transmitted by aspirating drinking water or breathing in water droplets. Legionella is not spread from person-to-person in respiratory droplets nor does the bacteria survive on dry surfaces. Your mask would not be a source of transmission for the Legionella bacteria.”
Are cases of Legionnaires’ being misdiagnosed as COVID-19?
In Canada, there was concern that patients may have been misdiagnosed with COVID-19 when they actually had Legionnaires’ disease. Both conditions attack the lungs and are particularly dangerous to the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, and as there have been fewer instances recorded this year, medical professionals are speculating that cases may have been missed after seven seemingly unrelated cases of Legionnaires’ disease were diagnosed in southwest Montreal.
After five years in court, the state of Michigan has agreed to pay $600m in compensation to victims of the Flint Water Crisis, which began in 2014 when the city changed its water supply to a cheaper but improperly treated one. One man died when he contracted Legionnaires’ disease after a hospital visit in 2015. Originally, two top health officials had been facing criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter after failing to inform the public of a legionella outbreak at the hospital. The victim’s family are also suing the hospital, which could lead to an even larger overall settlement.
In the Navy
In Portsmouth, parts of the Royal Navy’s headquarters were closed after the discovery of the legionella bacteria in the water system. The building was closed while the system was cleaned, but no one was affected.
School safety concerns
Legionella testing in schools in the USA has uncovered more positive tests for the legionella bacteria than usual, which is being linked to the closure of schools over lockdown. As schools take precautionary measures against COVID-19, such as shutting down water fountains, they are increasing the conditions in which Legionella can grow. Scientists are urging parents to ask schools about their water safety measures to ensure their children are protected.
Patient sues care home
In Illinois, a former resident of a senior living facility is suing the care home and associated companies for $50,000. The woman was hospitalised with Legionnaires’ disease in 2018 and, as a result, is claiming damages.