Legionnaires’ in US, Italy and Australia

Blood sample

Officials in northern Italy have confirmed that commercial water-cooling towers were the source of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that resulted in more than 400 hospital admissions and two deaths.

The disease is a severe form of pneumonia that is caused by a bacterium called legionella. It is normally contracted from inhaling the bacteria from a contaminated water source and cannot be communicated through person-to-person contact.

Ten tests were performed on samples from three cooling towers in the three hardest hit towns, nine of which tested positive for legionella. Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s top welfare official, has announced a sanitising programme, and said in a statement that although some bacteria was found in stagnant water along the Chiesa river, the water supply is safe to drink in the city of Brescia.

Meanwhile, in Hampton in the US, state health officials have increased the number of confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease to 18, following an outbreak in Hampton this summer that led to 16 hospitalisations and one death.

Hot tubs at the Sands Resort and the Harris Sea Ranch Motel were shut down in the last week of August and, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), water samples taken from the Sands Resort hot tub were found to be growing the same strain of Legionella bacteria that was isolated from a patient diagnosed with Legionnaires, which indicated that the hot tub at the resort was a source of the disease.

In addition, in Australia, Lidcombe residents and recent visitors to the western Sydney suburb are being warned to watch for symptoms of Legionnaires' disease, after two people were diagnosed.  The Western Sydney Local Health District's Public Health Director, Dr Shopna Bag, said it was traced to a water-cooling system on a Lidcombe building, which has since been decontaminated.

"The time from exposure to the onset of symptoms is typically between two and 10 days," Dr Bag said in a statement on Tuesday. He said that there is no ongoing risk but that anyone who has been in the area recently who develops symptoms of the disease should visit their GP.