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Legionnaire’s disease is contracted when droplets containing the bacteria are inhaled. Although most healthy people will not be affected, there are certain ‘at risk’ groups that are more likely to be infected. These groups include:
- Men over 40
- The elderly
- Those who have recently had surgery
- People with heart disease
- People with conditions which suppress the immune system
Hospitals have a high intake of people from these groups so infection control is essential.
Every time a water system is altered in some way a new Legionella risk assessment should be carried out. Hospitals very often have old water systems that are fragmented with dead legs, have buildings that change use and have new buildings added. The combination of this and the fact they house several groups that have an increased risk of contracting infections mean a strict and effective Legionella control regime is imperative.
In 2012, a hospital in Northern Ireland was at the centre of a health scare; four babies died after contracting infections caused by Pseudomonas. Similar to Legionella, Pseudomonas lives in water systems and affects those with compromised immune systems. The infection was linked to tap water from both the neonatal and intensive care units – sites you may consider perhaps the most important to have a clean water supply.
In light of this unfortunate event, the Department of Health is increasing measures in the control of infection in water systems in hospitals. As part of a control regime, EWS will take water samples to test for the presence of bacteria, including Pseudomonas. These tests help determine the appropriate control measures and treatment required.