The Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC) believes there could potentially be an additional serious public health concern surrounding legionella once the current COVID-19 trading restrictions are removed.
The Chief Executive of the APHC, John Thompson, explained: “With restaurants, pubs, sports facilities, bed & breakfasts, hotels, hairdressers and many other leisure establishments being closed for nearly four weeks now, we feel there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the potential spread of Legionnaires’ disease once these establishments re-open as action needs to be taken now to stop a possible outbreak.”
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia caused by the legionella bacterium. This disease can be serious if not treated immediately. Most people catch Legionnaires' disease by inhaling the bacteria from water droplets dispersed through taps and showers.
The current lockdown means that the plumbing systems of the aforementioned establishments aren’t being used. If these redundant systems are not being correctly maintained, which APHC believes could be the case for many establishments, they can relatively quickly become the ideal environment for legionella bacteria to grow, as legionella bacteria multiplies in stagnant water, poorly designed water systems and in water with temperatures between 20oC and 45oC.
Although Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal, it is also treatable. However, to complicate matters, the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to the symptoms associated with COVID-19 - high temperature, feverishness and chills, coughing, muscle pains, headache and diarrhoea with the potential to lead to pneumonia.
John added: “Landlords and employers have a legal duty to assess and control the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria. Risk assessments, precautionary actions and remedial work can be implemented to protect against Legionnaires’ disease. However, we believe the vast majority of landlords and employers are unaware of their legal duty and of the actions that need to be taken.
“These are unprecedented times and never have so many buildings been closed for so long without any thought for bringing these buildings back into use, which if not facilitated correctly could lead to a serious outbreak of Legionnaires disease just as the country and the NHS recover from COVID-19.”
APHC is advising for landlords, property owners, and employers to take action now by contacting a suitably qualified plumbing and heating engineer in order to carry out a risk assessment, advise on precautionary measures and, if required, implement remedial work.
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