Thursday, May 30, 2024

Cooling towers inspected after Legionnaires outbreak

After a number of recent cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the Shoalhaven and Wollongong, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) has appealed to the community to monitor for symptoms.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Public Health Unit (PHU) has reviewed all the cooling towers in the affected areas in the Wollongong LGA and the Nowra/Bomaderry area.

They have also completed on-site inspections and sampling of cooling towers in these areas. Results for the Wollongong LGA have not returned any positive detections for legionella bacteria, while the results for Nowra/Bomaderry are pending.

Health authorities say an increase in the number of cases towards the end of a warm, wet summer is not unusual. Legionella and other bacteria can grow rapidly, especially in warmer summer months.

The PHU routinely works closely with local councils in the management of cooling towers. Routine testing of cooling towers helps identify contamination early and allows for prompt cleaning and corrective actions.

In 2018 NSW Health strengthened the Public Health Regulation to reduce the community’s risk of Legionnaires’ disease, requiring building owners to conduct risk assessments and monthly tests on cooling towers and notify high levels of Legionella and other bacteria to local councils.

The increase in local cases of Legionnaires’ disease is a timely reminder to businesses and building owners of their obligations under the Public Health Regulation 2012 to ensure their cooling towers are properly maintained.

The best methods of control are preventative measures such as properly cleaning, maintaining and operating cooling towers. It is also important that operational issues are remediated immediately.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person and is not contagious, with outbreaks of the disease mostly linked to contaminated water-cooling systems of air conditioning plants in large buildings.

Symptoms can develop up to 10 days from the time of exposure to contaminated water particles in the air and include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath and may lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.

If you experience these symptoms please visit your GP. People who develop this disease are diagnosed by chest X-ray and a urine test and usually require antibiotic treatment in hospital.

For more information about water cooling systems management contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 or visit the NSW Health website

For more information on Legionnaires’ disease visit the NSW Health Legionnaires’ fact sheet.

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