Following this week’s report that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded globally, it got us thinking about environmental influences on Legionella bacteria and how our changing climate may affect the safety of domestic water systems and an increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of our blog, temperature has a critical influence on the life of Legionella bacteria; too cold and it will lie dormant, unable to multiply; too hot and it will be killed. But between about 20°C and 50°C, Legionella hits its sweet spot, bathing in the balmy waters of bacterial heaven and breeding like crazy.
Therefore, with global temperatures rising the likelihood of the ambient temperature hitting this Legionella-friendly scale is increased, so any water stored in tanks or cisterns is at a greater risk of contamination.
Of course another impact of hotter weather is greater use of air conditioning. Cooling systems present a high risk environment for Legionella and the perfect distribution network for the bacteria to become airborne and breathable.
Higher temperatures impact on water levels too, prompting the melting of permafrost, glaciers and ice which can contribute to rising sea levels and an increase in flood water. Since Legionella is widespread in natural bodies of water, this could also result in a higher concentration of the bacteria occurring in the environment.
This in itself isn’t necessarily a serious issue, but when coupled with a growing global population, human consumption of such water and the use of manmade systems to deliver it to domestic property, the risk to human health could increase.
But it’s not all doom and gloom as there’s much that can be done to reduce this threat. We now have forty years’ experience in controlling the risk of Legionella and our understanding of its behaviour is improving every day. Indeed, many experts believe that Legionnaires’ disease is a largely preventable condition if a rigorous risk management programme is implemented.
It’s for this reason that we are so passionate about educating property owners about Legionella control and emphasising how relatively simple procedures can make an enormous difference to risk reduction.
Alongside good old-fashioned risk management processes, cutting edge technology is making big strides in tackling the threat of Legionella too. From apps to boost compliance to bacteria-killing plumbing devices such as ultraviolet light chambers in shower fittings, science and engineering are helping us to find new ways of staying one step ahead of Legionella. Given the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance, illustrated starkly by the death of a woman in the US last year after all known antibiotics failed to treat her infection, we need to keep innovating our approach to dealing with disease.
In the context of this evolving environment, vigilance and rigour are powerful tools for controlling the risk of Legionella. By taking a systematic approach to maintaining domestic water systems and following the simple advice on our blog, we can all play our part in ensuring that the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease is reduced.