Department of Health

Legionnaires' disease cases detected

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Five cases of Legionnaires' disease are being investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services to determine a possible link to cooling towers in Melbourne's Central Business District.

Victoria's deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Finn Romanes, said the cases all report working in or visiting the CBD in the days before they became unwell. All had onset dates within the last week of March and the first week of April.

All five people required hospital treatment, and are now recovering. The three men and two women who became ill are aged between 51 and 71 years of age.

Dr Romanes said the link to these cases was made following important information from interviews late yesterday and earlier today.

"My message to people who have visited the CBD between late March and earlier this month and who may be suffering from pneumonia or flu-like symptoms is to visit their GP who will assess the need for testing for Legionnaires' disease.

"The Department is continuing to investigate these cases to identify the possible source of their illness," Dr Romanes said.

Legionnaires' disease causes flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, followed by respiratory problems and pneumonia developing over three or four days. The 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 or chronic lung disease and those with lowered immunity.

Legionnaires' disease infection is acquired through breathing in very fine droplets of water which contain the bacteria, such as spray drifts which are vented off from a contaminated cooling tower. Thorough management, decontamination and cleaning of affected towers is highly successful in eliminating risk.

The Legionella bacteria occurs naturally in the environment, mainly in water and soil. It is 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.

So far this year 26 people have contracted Legionnaires' disease, with 21 notifications for the same period last year. In Victoria each year there are between 70 to 80 cases of Legionnaires' disease.

Reviewed 12 April 2017


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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