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Legionella

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Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection including different symptoms as high fever, muscle pain and breathing difficulties. Symptoms can appear from 2 days to two weeks, being 5-7 days the most common range of appearance.

Infection is caused by bacteria known as Legionella and can develop when a person inhales droplets or aerosol of contaminated water.

Around 95-98% of the Legionnaires’ cases are thought to be caused by only one species of Legionella; Legionella pneumophila, which includes 16 strains or serovars.

Legionella pneumophila Serogroup 1 is the cause of 80% of the Legionnaires’ disease. There have been many high profile outbreaks with high fatality rates recorded since it’s discovery in 1976 which can lead can result in prison sentences and significant fines, two examples in England in 2018 resulted in fine in excess of £4m.

Legionella are gram negative, obligate aerobe bacteria which can be found in natural waters like rivers or lakes, mostly as intracellular parasites in free-living protozoa. Becoming infected in natural environment is infrequent because the low numbers of bacteria present in the cold water. However, if bacteria can reach any artificial water system where temperature is between 20-45oC they can grow and spread faster and become a risk. Moreover, sedimentation in artificial systems provides nutrients that help bacteria to grow in number and develop biofilms leading to becoming more widespread in the water systems. Therefore hot and cold water systems in hotels, spas, hospitals as well as cooling systems in large buildings are vulnerable to Legionella contamination. Also, apart from the health risks, the presence of biofilms can accelerate the corrosion of pipes and lead to the degradation of the system, which implies bigger cost of preventative maintenance for the owners.

Monitoring water from these kinds of sources has become routine involving the sub-culture of the bacteria from water samples either by filtration or centrifugation onto plates of selective media including cysteine as BCYE or GVPC. This method requires the incubation of the plates for at least 10 days, and several readings during that time. Confirmation of presence of Legionella is carried out using the Legionella Latex kits or MALDIToF.

However the effectiveness traditional culture (ISO 11371) method.is increasingly being called into question. Health organizations suggest that a quicker test could improve the prevention and improvements in accuracy and sensitivity could minimise the apparition of Legionnaires’ disease and secondarily, to ensure a longer life for the water system.

Test Methods

There are now a number of alternatives; most of which give results within 24hours of sampling, which are suitable to use for testing for Legionella in different applications and scenarios.

Isopharm has the knowledge and capability to provide sound advice to ensure that the control of Legionella bacteria is effective from both a water quality and cost perspective.