Travel Advice: How to Avoid Legionnaires’ Disease on Holiday
In this article, our expert legionella and water safety specialists take a look at the risks of contracting Legionnaires’ disease while on holiday, and what travellers can do to protect themselves.
The article gives travellers some simple, but very effective advice on things they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones against Legionnaires’ disease. It explains who is more at risk from the effects of the disease, typical incubation periods and symptoms to watch out for. It goes on to highlight common risk factors and what travellers can do to protect themselves; and concludes by drawing attention to a number of other factors that holidaymakers should be aware of.
A version of this travel advice note about how to how to avoid Legionnaires’ disease on holiday appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Legionnaires’ disease on holiday
Most people have heard of Legionnaires’ disease, but few would give it any thought in everyday life. Cases are rare in the general population, but there are certain situations where you may be at greater risk, and travelling abroad is one of them.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), over 1,000 travellers contract Legionnaires’ disease every year. When you consider that some milder cases may go unreported because those involved think they have ‘flu rather than anything else, the numbers could be even higher.
This shouldn’t deter you from travelling to or within Europe if you’re planning on doing so at any point. However, it makes sense to be aware of the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease and to recognise where the risks may be higher. Of course, legionella bacteria, the organism that’s responsible for Legionnaires’ exist around the world and, given the opportunity can find their way into any man-made water system. As such, it is important to keep the following in mind no matter where you go on holiday.
Legionnaires’ disease: What are the symptoms?
The early symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease tend to present in much the same way as a severe cold or ‘flu. An individual may develop a headache and a fever, with chills and aching muscles. This is followed by a dry cough which progresses to having difficulty breathing.
Legionnaires’ disease develops following inhalation of water droplets (an aerosol) that’s contaminated with legionella bacteria, presenting as a form of pneumonia. The overall fatality rate is around 5% to 10%, although this can rise to between 40% to 80% if patients are immune-suppressed and do not receive treatment.
Certainly, some people are at greater risk of contracting the disease than others. The risk increases for those over the age of 50, along with those who have chronic lung conditions or who smoke. An underlying illness could also raise the risk factors for some.
There are antibiotic treatments available for Legionnaires’ disease. This means it is imperative that anyone suspecting they may have the disease should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Most people who have been exposed to legionella bacteria will begin developing symptoms anywhere from 48 hours up to 10 days following that exposure. Rarely, someone might develop symptoms up to three weeks after exposure.
It’s wise to keep this time factor in mind, so if you do develop symptoms, you can trace back to the likely source of the bacteria. Furthermore, there have been instances where more than one guest staying at the same hotel or property has developed Legionnaires’ disease. This has led to local health and safety officials closing the property for investigation and a deep clean to make it safe before reopening.
Legionnaires’ risk factors associated with going on holiday
Anyone who owns or runs a business supplying holiday accommodation has a responsibility to make sure the accommodation is safe for its guests, visitors and the people who work there. This includes being aware of legionella bacteria, the risk it poses, and how to identify and reduce the associated risks.
Of course, as a visitor to such properties, you cannot know what the owner or operator has or hasn’t done to mitigate these risks. It would also be impossible to check whether the water system is safe to use.
For instance, you won’t know whether the water is stored or supplied at safe temperatures. You won’t know how long it has been since the property or room was last used. Legionella bacteria are more likely to multiply in stagnant water or in pipework that is rarely used. This allows biofilm (a slimy coating) to form inside the pipes, feeding the bacteria and allowing it to spread.
What can you do to limit your risk of exposure to legionella?
There are some simple steps you can take that can reduce the risks associated with exposure. For example, if you’re staying in a room or property with a shower, run the shower hot for a few minutes before using it – it’s best to minimise any spray, open any windows and leave the room while the showers is on. This flushes through the water pipes, any hoses and the showerhead itself, and helps to get rid of anything that might be in there before you use the shower. The same applies to any taps in the property, hot and cold, whether in a kitchen or bathroom. It’s simple, quick to do, and can help.
It makes sense to understand how you might inhale legionella bacteria too, if any should be present where you are staying. Since it resides within water systems, it can be ejected in water exiting that system, no matter whether this is via water, steam, or mist. Tiny droplets can be inhaled, and if those droplets contain legionella bacteria, it can enter your lungs and potentially develop into Legionnaires’ disease. Hence why it is a good idea to let a shower run for a few minutes before using it. It may have been used only a few hours before you arrived at your accommodation, but you won’t know for sure.
Remember that this advice is good to know regardless of whether you are staying in a hotel room or suite, a private house, a chalet, a B&B, or anywhere else provided as holiday accommodation.
Legionnaires’ risk factors are not confined to your holiday accommodation
Any water source that could potentially put people in contact with aerosols and airborne droplets of water could lead to infection if it is not properly cleaned, maintained, and operated. For example, a hotel could have a stunning water feature in the foyer or outside. You may visit a spa that offers baths or whirlpool features that could pose a risk. Other potential issues may arise with fountains and even air conditioning, if the latter uses an evaporative condenser that could expose people to aerosols.
Of course, as we saw at the start of this article, very few people out of the millions who take holidays across Europe each year will end up developing Legionnaires’ disease because of their holiday. However, being aware of the risks, where they are most likely to be, and of the simple steps you can take to reduce those risks, is a sensible approach. Legionnaires’ is rare, certainly, but given the fatality rate when someone does contract it, and the importance of seeking early medical advice, being more aware of your surroundings and flushing those taps and showers does make sense.
World leading legionella risk management specialists
The water safety specialists at Legionella Control International help hospitality businesses around the world and those responsible for the control of legionella and other waterborne pathogens manage their water risks to ensure regulatory compliance is achieved and then maintained to keep people safe from harm.
We are experienced water safety specialists and deliver full range of services including risk assessments for legionella, and other waterborne pathogens. We also offer Authorising Engineer support, compliance auditing, accredited water quality testing, City & Guilds training and other health and safety risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.
If you would like to speak with one of our legionella specialists about improving your risk management processes call us today on 0330 223 36 86 or contact us here …