News article published: 9th September 2019
A care home in West Yorkshire is the latest such facility to find Legionella bacteria in its hot-and-cold water systems. Samples of water from the home’s heating system were taken for testing and found to contain the waterborne microbe, which can cause Legionnaires’ Disease when inhaled. As recently as 2018, the facility in question was rated poorly by the Care Quality Commission in its annual survey, yet management and trustees from the home have stressed that the matter is being handled and that there is no risk to visitors, staff or residents. Legionella is such a threat in care facilities because the bacteria usually does more harm to vulnerable people. When contaminated water vapour is breathed in, legionella travel to the lungs, where they cause pneumonia. This often results in chest pain and trouble breathing, but the disease is very easy to misdiagnose as flu. Those infected by the bacteria need immediate medical attention to stop the disease, which has a higher fatality rate in those who are elderly, suffer from chronic conditions or smoke. Bacteria tend to live in water pipes, tanks and outlets where there is stagnant water. These environments are warm and moist enough for legionella to survive for a long time. Regular water system flushing and decontamination is essential to control the spread and build-up of the bacteria. Responsibility for control always lies with the duty holder, who must keep the public safe from harm, whether they are visiting the facility or living there. They must be aware of the necessary water hygiene protocols and ensure staff are adequately prepared, equipped and trained to enforce them. Further to the admission that Infection Control personnel were helping the West Yorkshire care home to deal with the flaws in its hot and cold water systems, the local authority has announced that it will be suspending placements for new residents at the affected facility. They also said that they were working with the management and trustees of the facility to help improve the state of the building and advise on the wellbeing of its residents. These steps are necessary to prevent future contamination by bacteria and incidences of infection, which in this case have so far been avoided. Residents are now being monitored in case any begin to show signs of Legionnaires’ Disease. Whatever the case, positive tests for legionella are a bad sign and likely to be a result of neglect by facilities managers and duty holders.