Holiday How to avoid deadly Legionnaires’ disease

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Popular holiday spots could put Brits at risk of a serious bacterial infection that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, a series of new studies have found

Here’s how to avoid the deadly Legionnaires’ disease, which can cause life-threatening pneumonia lurking in stagnant water in your hotel’s shower

  • Two-thirds of hotels in tourist locations have tested positive for Legionnaires
  • Hotels and Greece, the Canary Islands and Morocco have been tested for the bug
  • Holidaymakers have been urged to leave taps and showers running before using water
  • It is feared the bug may have accumulated while hotels were closed during the Covid crisis

Popular holiday spots could put Brits at risk of a serious bacterial infection that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, a series of new studies have found.

Scientists have found that up to two-thirds of hotels in destinations like Greece, the Canary Islands and Morocco are at risk of spreading the infection — called Legionella, or Legionnaires’ disease — that lurks in stagnant waters.

Now microbiologists are urging holidaymakers to leave taps and showers running before coming in contact with the water amid fears of insect build-up while the premises were closed during the Covid lockdowns.

Popular holiday spots could put Brits at risk of a serious bacterial infection that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, a series of new studies have found

Holidaymakers are advised to turn on the taps to allow any water that may be infected with Legionnaires' disease to escape.  Scientists fear the bacteria that collect in stagnant water may have multiplied during the long Covid lockdown, when many hotels were closed

Holidaymakers are advised to turn on the taps to allow any water that may be infected with Legionnaires’ disease to escape. Scientists fear the bacteria that collect in stagnant water may have multiplied during the long Covid lockdown, when many hotels were closed

It comes months after Lynn Stigwood, 70, from Buckinghamshire, reportedly died after contracting the infection while on holiday in the Dominican Republic.

After becoming severely ill with vomiting and diarrhea in September 2019, she was rushed to the hospital where she contracted pneumonia and had difficulty breathing and walking.

She developed organ failure and died. Lynn’s husband Melvyn, 73, came home with a letter from the travel company that arranged the trip, warning of contaminated water at their hotel. According to the letter, several guests fell ill with Legionnaires’ disease. Lynn had used the shower before she felt uncomfortable.

The Legionella beetle thrives in large buildings — like hotels and office buildings — where it grows in water supplies, especially in warm climates where heat aids its reproduction.

Swimming pools and rusty, dirty air conditioners are common places of contamination because warm, stagnant water can collect there, which is dispersed into the air as droplets and then inhaled.

But the bacteria can also lurk in showers and taps that have not been used for a few days. Microbiology experts are now warning vacationers of urgent measures to protect themselves from the risk of infection. This is crucial, especially post-pandemic, as some resorts may only have recently opened certain hotel rooms when the travel industry returns to normal.

“Leave the shower running in your hotel or apartment as soon as you get there if it hasn’t been used for a few days,” says microbiologist Dr. Tom Makin, an independent consultant for hotels and resorts on legionella control. “Get out of the bathroom and let it run for five to ten minutes. Then hold your breath, go back to the bathroom and turn off the shower before leaving. Wait 30 minutes before using the toilet to allow any contaminated droplets to disperse. If the bathroom has a window, open it and turn on the extractor fan if you have one.”

Health and safety guidelines state that the hot water supply must be kept at a minimum of 50°C as the beetle cannot survive in this heat. Likewise, cold water should be below 20°C to stop bacteria from multiplying. Hotels, leisure centers and large buildings must regularly treat the water with chemicals to destroy legionella colonies. But recent studies suggest many don’t. In a report in the journal Travel Medicine And Infectious Diseases, scientists testing 204 hotels in the Canary Islands – visited by 600,000 Britons annually – found that 12 per cent had Legionella bacteria in their sanitary facilities, air conditioning systems or pools.

A similar study in Greece found that 75 percent of 51 hotels had contaminants in their water supplies. And in September 2021, tests on water samples from 118 hotels in Morocco found more than half had Legionella at levels sufficient to cause disease.

Around half of the 300 to 400 Britons who contract Legionella each year contract it from abroad. Once the infection is diagnosed, doctors refer to the condition as Legionnaires’ disease.

While the average mortality rate is about one in ten, it can be as high as 30 percent in people with compromised immune systems, such as those with rheumatoid arthritis or kidney failure.

Outbreaks are also occurring in the UK. Vacationers returning home after the break should repeat the shower routine, says Dr. Makin in case bacteria has accumulated in the shower head. “Introduce your own shower when you come home when the house was empty and nobody used it,” he adds. “The same goes for garden hoses.”

A 2017 study found that almost a third of water samples taken from showerheads and bathroom pipes in 100 residential buildings in southern England contained traces of Legionella.

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