Legionnaires’ disease was first identified after a convention at a hotel when in Philadelphia in 1976, at a convention of around 2000 Legionnaires from the American Legion, an outbreak of an unknown disease occurred.
Within a week, 130 people had been hospitalised and 25 had died. Due to the significant scale of the outbreak, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control mounted a full-scale investigation, finding the environment of the hotel to be the common factor in all the cases. The investigation found the cause of the outbreak to be a new kind of bacteria, later named Legionella pneumophila, which was present in high concentration in the hotel’s water tower.
Are resorts a dangerous environment for Legionnaires’ disease?
As shown above, the first identified outbreak of Legionnaires’ occurred in a hotel. While not exactly a resort, resorts tend to be centred around an accommodation unit which is in most senses a hotel.
Due to these shared environmental factors, resorts are absolutely high-risk environments for outbreaks of Legionnaires’. What exactly are those factors though?
All water can contain low levels of bacteria, which are harmless in those low quantities – including Legionella pneumophila. In most domestic situations, this doesn’t cause a problem, as people living in houses tend to use running water on a regular basis, not storing any of it for long enough for those bacteria to multiply.
Bacteria like Legionella become dangerous when they’re present in essentially stagnant water sources for long periods of time, especially when that water is at a temperature conducive to bacteria growth. This stored water doesn’t have to be in a water tank either – it could also be in pipes or taps in rooms which are rarely or never used. Hotels and resorts will often have water storage units, and pipes that are not cleared on a regular basis. This is where problems can occur.
Pools, hot tubs, and showers
Legionnaires’ disease can’t be caught by drinking contaminated water. Rather, it’s spread through contaminated water droplets, or aerosols. In resorts, there are multiple places where water droplets can be spread from potentially infected water sources. These include pools, hot tubs, communal showering and changing areas, as well as the multiple different water sources in private rooms. Each of these water sources poses a potential risk of spreading infection, often in highly crowded areas, where the ramifications of an outbreak would be immense.
Conduct regular testing
While the risk of Legionnaires’ is potentially high in resorts, it’s also incredibly easy to implement systems to mitigate that risk. This generally means taking a two-pronged approach: regularly testing water sources, and ensuring that the environments that promote bacteria growth aren’t present. This often requires employing the services of a water hygiene surveyor, who will help with the implementation of risk mitigation and water testing strategies.
For further reading, visit a leading resource such as the Water Hygiene Centre website.