Seven confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Stoke-on-Trent are being jointly investigated by Public and environmental health experts from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the Health and Safety Executive, the NHS in Stoke, and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
All seven patients are now being treated at University Hospital of North Staffordshire - two patients remain stable, the remaining patients are improving. The age range of patients is from late 40s -75 years old, only one case is female. The HPA is also investigating two cases identified in early summer as being possibly linked to the current cluster.
Professor Harsh Duggal, Director of the Health Protection Unit in Stafford, said:
“While we do not currently have a direct link between the cases the evidence points to the fact that there is a common source. We are taking detailed histories of the movements of the patients to see if there are similar patterns which would indicate a local source of infection.
“Legionnaires’ disease is a rare but potentially life threatening illness. It is caused by a bacteria commonly associated with water systems and cannot be passed from person to person. As a precaution we are working with the Health and Safety Executive and Stoke-on-Trent City Council Environmental Health Services to identify and control any possible sources of the disease.”
The action to date includes:
- Identifying, sampling and advising on the disinfection of potential sources of the disease, such as cooling towers, in areas that the cases may have visited in common.
- Alerting health care staff, including GPs in the areas the patients live, to look out for patients who may be developing symptoms of the disease
- Making people aware of the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease
Philip Lonsdale, Operations Manager of the Water Safety Division at leading risk management firm Santia consulting, commented:
“These new cases quickly follow a large outbreak in Edinburgh earlier this year, in which three people tragically died and over a hundred people were believed to have been made ill. Once again, we are finding ourselves in a situation where we are reminding all employers that positive action is imperative in order to avoid further outbreaks.
“Water risk assessment followed by ongoing management, maintenance and monitoring is crucial. Any business failing to properly address this are running the risk of being associated with a future outbreak, even if such a link is never officially proven. Being named, shamed and prosecuted can be avoided if simple preventative action is taken.”
Legionnaire’s disease is caused by a germ called Legionella pneumophila. Although this bacteria is widely distributed in the environment it can lead to human illness if sources such as wet air conditioning systems are not well maintained. It cannot be spread from one person to another.
The early symptoms include a “flu-like” illness with muscle aches, tiredness, headaches, dry cough and fever which can then lead to pneumonia. As with any pneumonia, the patient can become very unwell. Diarrhoea and/or confusion may occur, as well as chest pain and shortness of breath. It can be effectively treated with a course of antibiotics.
People are advised if they are feeling unwell with any of the possible signs to go and see their doctor, ring NHS Direct on 08454647 or visit www.nhs.uk
It is stressed that there is no need for anyone who is well or only mildly unwell to see their doctor or to have any tests.
Santia is highly experienced in the management of water risks. Further details of our services, which include water risk assessments, water testing and water safety management reviews, can be found here.
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