Following reports of irruption of legionnaires' outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, cooling systems across places like Footscray and Seddon are being scoured to locate the source of the outbreak. Three men have already been hospitalized and confirmed to be suffering from the legionnaires'.
Legionnaires Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and it is caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila and related bacteria that can be found naturally in environmental water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, usually in low numbers. As they are commonly found in environmental sources they may also be found in purpose built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and whirlpool spas.
If conditions are favourable the bacterium may grow creating conditions in which the risk from legionnaires' disease is increased.
The illness is called legionnaires' disease because it was first reported at an American Legion convention in 1976 in Philadelphia, where it made 182 people ill.
In Melbourne, one cooling tower has been closed but the Department of Human Services is inspecting another 16 towers at 11 sites which will be disinfected as a precaution. The closed tower near the Highpoint Shopping Centre, but not part of the centre, has tested positive for legionella bacteria in the past.
Despite recently being disinfected it has tested positive again and will remain closed until it is fully decontaminated. The most serious case is a 57-year-old Coburg man in Royal Melbourne Hospital's intensive care unit for two weeks. His illness was thought to be isolated until two more cases surfaced this week. A 74-year-old man from Seddon and a 59-year-old West Footscray man are in the Western Hospital.
Acting chief health officer Chrissie Pickin said advice on the signs and symptoms of legionnaires' disease has been distributed to emergency departments and general practitioners in the area.
"There is no reason for residents of these areas not to go about their normal business or activities, but we are asking anyone with influenza-like symptoms, including headache, fever, chills, coughs, muscle aches and pains, to visit their local general practitioner," Dr Pickin said.
Legionnaires' can present up to 10 days after contact with the bacteria. Smokers and the elderly are at the greatest risk from the disease, while those with chronic medical conditions such as cancer, lung disease and diabetes may also face an increased risk. There have been 13 cases of legionnaires' disease this year, compared to 40 at the same time last year.