Calculating the Economic Cost of Legionnaires’ Disease?
In this article our experts go beyond the immediately visible impact of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease to look at other, often hidden economic consequences that are all too often overlooked.
Calling on detailed research from the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention we look at the lifetime economic cost of an outbreak to those individuals and businesses involved.
The impact of Legionnaires’ disease
An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease can affect lots of people, in many different ways.
There are those unfortunate enough to contract the disease and those close to them who worry about their loved ones.
We can also reasonably include those whose livelihoods may be affected by an outbreak.
Businesses at the centre of a Legionnaires’ outbreak may well suffer significant disruption, a tarnished reputation, and a serious drop in revenue if forced to close while the outbreak is brought under control.
Some businesses are so seriously affected that they end up closing all together, most notably the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, USA.
The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel was the site of the first known outbreak of the disease in 1976… it remained open for just four months following the outbreak.
The economic cost of Legionnaires’ disease
This highlights the potential economic costs associated with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
It’s easy to think of the human cost – the lives lost and the people who struggled with the disease before eventually recovering.
Yet there are financial concerns too, and these go beyond the newspaper headlines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in America, the lifetime economic burden related to cases of Legionnaires’ disease discovered in 2014 in the USA alone is thought to be around $835 million.
Financial costs can be seen in many ways and they are perhaps not as obvious as the physical impact of the disease either.
Yet once you begin digging into this wider area, the numbers become rather sobering.
Illness and its impact on productivity
Businesses take all kinds of steps to ensure they offer a safe and healthy workplace for their employees.
Every day of sickness is a lost day – a loss of productivity – and this impacts all kinds of businesses.
The research conducted by the CDC suggests that a drop in productivity amounting to around $21 million was experienced by businesses during 2014 because of workers off sick with Legionnaires’ disease.
However, when looking at the long-term impact of deaths of workers who caught the disease, the estimate goes far higher.
The CDC suggests a drop of around $412 million relating to a loss of productivity may have been experienced in 2014.
Accounting for the cost of medical care
Since the USA does not have a national health system of the kind seen in the UK and some other countries, anyone who falls ill must face the associated medical bills.
Someone who is fortunate enough to survive the Legionnaires’ may be left with extensive bills to pay.
The long term health effects of Legionnaires’ disease
Survivors of the disease may also be left suffering from long-term issues relating to Legionnaires’.
These after effects can include fatigue, coughing, memory loss, muscular issues, and neurological issues.
Some people even develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of their experience of the disease and their time in hospital.
It’s easy to think about the physical effects of Legionnaires’ disease.
It affects the lungs and causes many symptoms associated with pneumonia.
However, the mental and emotional costs can also be high.
For those who survive, the financial costs can also be significant.
Some can return to work while others may never be able to.
So, even for those who survive the disease, going back to life as it was before may not be possible.
This has a considerable financial effect on that person and their family – not to mention the larger economic concerns.
Can we prevent Legionnaires’ disease?
It’s clear that the economic impact of Legionnaires’ disease is significant – perhaps more so than many people realise.
The one thing we do have on our side is that nearly all cases of Legionnaires’ disease are preventable.
The disease is contracted by inhaling infected water aerosols or mist in the air.
This can occur through exposure to contaminated water supplies.
Anything from a shower head to a cooling tower or even an ornamental fountain can pose a risk.
Anyone who is responsible for maintaining such engineering systems, structures, buildings, or water sources must make sure those sources are safe for those using them or even being near them.
Controlling Legionella bacteria in your water systems
The process for keeping hot and cold water systems safe from elevated levels of Legionella bacteria is straightforward enough.
Regular testing, keeping hot and cold water temperatures under control, avoiding stagnation, regular flushing of the system, dosing with specialist chemicals to keep bacteria under control, and regular maintenance and cleaning are all sensible examples of this.
To begin with, a full legionella risk assessment should be undertaken to identify the areas that pose the biggest risks in your water systems.
This could include something as simple as dead legs of pipe that are no longer used… removal would be the ideal solution here.
In other cases, where removing the risk is impossible, steps should be taken to mitigate the risk as much as possible so people are kept safe.
If you think about every step contributing to a reduction of risk, you can work towards reducing the economic impact of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak as well.
Even though the report from the CDC applies to just one year in America, it’s easy to see how similar effects could happen in any other location around the world.
And yet there is so much we can do to limit the damage Legionella bacteria and Legionnaires’ disease can cause.
Legionella and water safety specialists
Our teams of legionella and water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of legionella in water systems, helping them to protect people and meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We deliver professional water safety risk assessments for legionella, pseudomonas and other waterborne pathogens, water testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.