Department of Health

Legionnaires' disease cases at Footscray (Archived content)

24/01/13
Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Health Department officials are testing and disinfecting cooling towers in Footscray after five cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in the area, the acting Chief Health Officer, Dr Michael Ackland said today.

Three of the people have been discharged from the Western Hospital after recovering from the flu-like illness, while another is still hospitalised in Sunshine Hospital. A man in his 50s from the western suburbs, who had significant other medical conditions, died early today at the Western Hospital.

Dr Ackland said all the cases had spent time in an area within a 2km radius of central Footscray. There are about two dozen air conditioning cooling towers in the area.

Legionnaires’ Disease is acquired through breathing in very fine droplets of water which contain the bacteria, such as spray drifts which are vented off from cooling towers. Thorough decontamination and cleaning of infected towers should eliminate the risk.

Dr Ackland said the cases were individually notified between December 8 and yesterday, when the common link to the Footscray area was confirmed.

A St Albans man, 56, Yarraville woman, 93, and Footscray man, 69, have been treated in hospital and discharged. A West Footscray woman, 75, is still in hospital.

“All five people had visited the general area within a 2km radius of central Footscray, and it is important that anyone else who has been in the vicinity who develops flu-like symptoms sees their doctor,” Dr Ackland said.

“There should be no risk to people travelling in the Footscray area now, as all the cooling towers are now being disinfected, cleaned and rendered safe,” Dr Ackland said.

Legionnaires’ Disease causes flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, followed by respiratory problems and pneumonia developed over three or four days. Onset can be up to 10 days after the initial contact with the bacteria.

High risk groups in the community are people aged over 50, heavy smokers, heavy drinkers, people with diabetes, people with chronic lung disease and those who are immunocompromised.

Legionella bacteria occur naturally in the environment, mainly in water and soil. They are normally in very low concentrations but can increase markedly, particularly in man-made aquatic environments with warm recirculating water, such as air conditioning cooling towers.

Under Victoria’s rigorous legionella legislation, all cooling tower owners are required to have their systems regularly sampled and disinfected. Any samples showing ongoing problems are required to be notified to the Health Department.

Dr Ackland said Health Department teams are taking samples from all towers in the area today, and checking to ensure that treatment and maintenance are up to date.

All the towers are now being disinfected and I am confident this cleaning should eliminate the risk,” he said.

Reviewed 24 January 2013

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Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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