May 9, 2011
-- Following the hottest April on record in the UK, air-conditioning will start to be used earlier than usual in care facilities and nursing environments. And now as summer approaches it’s time pay attention to air-conditioning system or units. A few healthcare facilities may have already done so, but most probably haven’t. This overhaul and cleaning of such systems is essential to help prevent the contraction of Legionnaires’
On the whole, Legionnaire’
s disease is thought of as being ‘rare’, but in actual fact, with over 500 cases per year in the UK (figures for 2006 show 551 reported cases of Legionnaires’
disease in England and Wales), it’s more of sporadic disease, only affecting one or two people in a facility at a time. These cases usually get overlooked by health organisations and never logged officially. However, Legionnaires’
is still serious disease with devastating consequences should an outbreak occur.
is a bacterium known as Legionella pneumophila. The disease and the bacterium were discovered following an outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976, hence the name. Water droplets in the form of an aerosol somehow contaminated the hotel's air conditioning system allowing the bacteria to come into contact with the convention guests.
It is important to note that the disease cannot be passed from person to person and it is a type of pneumonia which usually affects the middle-aged and elderly more severely. People who have a pulmonary or breathing disorder, e.g smokers or asthmatics, can also be affected regardless of age. As the pneumonia develops there may be chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, and hallucinations.
exists widely throughout natural water systems such as rivers and ponds, but it’s the rise in temperature that’s critical to its growth. And it is in warm or hot water of artificial water systems such as heating plants, whirlpools or evaporative condensers that it can really thrive. In such conditions it forms into a biofilm, or layer, of living bacteria over artificial structures and surfaces. Cooling systems like air-conditioning are probably the most common cause of distributing the disease. Droplets of water containing the bacteria are spread over a wide area, quickly and easily filling a room with the disease which is inadvertently inhaled by its occupants.
1 out of 10 people who contract the disease results in fatality, however most cases can be helped with the prompt treatment with antibiotics, although specific types of antibiotic must be used as the bacteria can hide inside the cells of the respiratory tract, and the antibiotics must be able to penetrate the cells.
The most annoying thing about the disease is that it’s preventable. The risk of catching Legionnaires' can be reduced with appropriate maintenance and cleaning of possible sources, such as air conditioning systems. So take the time and effort now to ensure the care home or nursing environment remains as disease free as possible, and help protect those who deserve the uttermost of care.
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