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Legionnaires’ disease cases prompt urging of Adelaide businesses to check cooling towers

SA Health is urging businesses in metropolitan Adelaide to decontaminate theirair-conditioning cooling towers following the notification of four cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

This image depicts two Legionella pneumophila bacterial colonies (arrowheads), amongst other bacterial colonies grown on BCYE (Buffered Charcoal Yeast Extract) agar/CDC

SA Health’s Acting Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kevin Buckett said fluctuating temperatures can contribute to the growth of Legionella bacteria.

“When we see very hot temperatures interspersed with milder temperatures, cooling towers may operate intermittently and increase the risk of bacteria growing and being released into the environment,” Dr Buckett said.

“The bacteria can cause serious respiratory illness such as Legionellosis, which is particularly harmful to the elderly, smokers and those with compromised immune systems.

“We have been notified of four cases in the last week, all males aged from 37 to 71, all of whom were hospitalised as a result.

“The illness is contracted by breathing in the bacteria but it is not passed from person to person.”

Dr Buckett said it is important that all cooling tower operators correctly maintained their cooling systems.

“Ongoing maintenance of water and cooling systems significantly reduces the risk of the Legionella bacteria growing,” Dr Buckett said.

“This is why it is important that proper preventative maintenance and anti-microbial treatment is carried out, particularly in times of variable weather.

While the source or sources of the recent cases have not yet been identified, SA Health is working with local governments to ensure all cooling towers are appropriately maintained.

“The recent cases do not report attending a single common location within their incubation period,” Dr Buckett said.

“We are working with multiple local councils to identify any sources and ensure all cooling towers are meeting the regulations and guidelines to eliminate any further public health risk.”

LISTEN: Legionnaires’ disease: An interview with Dr. Mark Edwards and Sarah Ferrari