Water hygiene – Legionella

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What is legionella?

Legionella is bacteria usually found in natural water courses such as rivers and ponds. This means they are widespread in the environment and can contaminate and grow in other water systems such as cooling towers and hot and cold water systems.

The bacteria survive in low temperatures and can multiply in water temperatures between 20°C and 45°C if the conditions are right. For example, stagnant water with rust, sludge, scale, algae or other bacteria can support the growth of legionella. High temperatures of 60°C and over will kill them.

Legionella bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia called legionnaires’ disease, as well as other less serious illnesses.

How do people get legionnaires’ disease?

People catch legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of contaminated water containing the bacteria which are in the air. These are often produced by running a tap of shower, or flushing a toilet.

You can’t get legionnaires’ disease from drinking water and it can’t be passed from one person to another.

What are the symptoms?

Everyone is potentially vulnerable to infection but some people are at higher risk, including:

  • People over 45 years of age;
  • Smokers and heavy drinkers;
  • People suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease; and,
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system.

The symptoms are similar to those of flu i.e. high temperature, tiredness, muscle aches, cough and headache.  In severe cases, there may also be pneumonia and occasionally, diarrhoea, as well as signs of mental confusion.

Not everyone who comes into contact with legionella bacteria becomes ill.

If you suspect that you or someone in your home has contracted legionnaires’ disease, you should contact your GP as soon as possible. If your doctor diagnoses you with legionnaires’ disease, let us know immediately so we can take the necessary steps to make your water system safe.

How to reduce the risk of legionella in your home

The likelihood of legionella in your home is very low. Here are some simple tips to help prevent the bacteria growing:

  • Let us know if your boiler or hot water tank is not working properly, particularly if you notice any debris or discolouration in your tap water.
  • We’ve set your water system so it heats the water up to 60°C, the temperature which legionella can’t grow so please don’t change your settings on your boiler or hot water system.
  • Please also tell us if you have any redundant pipework within your property, we will arrange for an engineer to attend and take a look at the pipework.

Cleaning tips

  • Regularly clean the taps in your bath, basin and sink by descaling them.
  • If you go on holiday or leave your property for a few days or more, make sure you flush toilets (with the lid down) and run all taps and showers continuously for two minutes to flush out any bacteria.
  • If you have a shower it is important that the shower head is cleaned regularly. We recommend about every three months. Follow these easy steps:
  • Unscrew your shower head and place in a plastic bag
  • Pour in a solution of one part white vinegar to one part water and leave for three hours (you can also use any general de-scaler)
  • Rinse the shower head thoroughly.

More information is available here