A CAUTIONARY TALE

18 months ago the Service Manager of a large pool building, construction and maintenance company was taken ill with pneumonia, and was off work for several weeks after having cleaned out the balance tank of a commercial spa in a confined space.  It is not known what other possible sources of exposure there had been in the days before he was ill.

The suspicion is that he actually caught Legionnaires’ Disease but unfortunately it was never confirmed.

The Service Manager was confirmed to be overweight, over 50 and a smoker, as well as being quite fond of a drink.  His occupation should have alerted people to the possibility of Legionnaires’ Disease, and he should not only have been tested; but immediately treated with appropriate antibiotics just “in case”, as the laboratory results take about 10 days and if not correctly treated, you could be dead by then.

This Autumn a few days after return from the Barcelona Swimming Pool Exhibition a pool contractor who is often hands on himself, was taken ill with pneumonia.  He was admitted to hospital on the Saturday and he had to admit to also being a heavy smoker, somewhat overweight and over 50, but not a drinker in this case but also slightly diabetic.  Despite this and his occupation being known to the hospital, the hospital medical staff had not thought of the possibility of Legionnaires’ Disease. It was only when a supplier who was talking to the contractor’s secretary and found out that the man concerned was in hospital with pneumonia, the supplier then suggested that his family alert the hospital to the possibility of Legionnaires’ Disease and to say that he really should be treated with the antibiotics which would work against Legionnaires’ Disease whilst they carried out the appropriate tests.

The hospital themselves were very sceptical about this approach but nevertheless at the insistence of the man’s wife, they did carry out the treatment and when the results came back, it was confirmed that he had Legionnaire’s Disease. 

Fortunately he has survived, (the death rate in the UK is approximately 12%) but he is still not fully fit. The UK’s leading expert said that although he has made good progress it is likely the full recovery process will take 12 months and hopefully he will not suffer any long term effects.

Everyone in this industry should be aware and should make sure that their families are also aware, of the possibility of them contracting Legionnaires’ Disease, either through their work or indeed perhaps through inadequately managed ornamental fountains or cooling towers, but if you are male, over 45, and overweight and immuno compromised in any way, you are much more susceptible (women are 1/3 less likely to suffer).  [It should perhaps be noted that poorly managed hot and cold water systems in large buildings including showers are a more likely source than ornamental fountains and cooling towers for this group].

Please make your families and employees aware of this, and insist that the correct treatment is given if you get pneumonia.  Legionnaires’ Disease, at the end of the day, is, in its most common form, caused by Legionella pneumophila. 

Howard Gosling  howard@spaadvice.co.uk    February 2008