Health

Vacation How to Avoid the Deadly Legionnaire’s Virus

Popular seaside resorts could be exposing Britons to a serious bacterial infection that could lead to deadly pneumonia, a series of new studies have revealed
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How to Avoid the Deadly Legionnaire’s Bug That Can Cause Deadly Pneumonia That Lurks in Your Hotel Shower’s Standing Water

  • Two-thirds of hotels in tourist resorts have tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease
  • Hotels and Greece, Canary Islands and Morocco have been tested for the bug
  • Vacationers have been urged to run taps and showers before using the water
  • The bug is feared to have accumulated while hotels were closed during the Covid crisis

Popular seaside resorts could put Britons at risk of serious bacterial infection that could lead to fatal pneumonia, a series of new studies have found.

Scientists have found that up to two-thirds of hotels in destinations such as Greece, the Canary Islands and Morocco are at risk of spreading the infection – called Legionella or Legionnaire’s disease – which lurks in standing water.

Now microbiologists are urging holidaymakers to run taps and showers before they have contact with water, for fear insects may have accumulated while premises were closed during the Covid lockdowns.

Popular seaside resorts could be exposing Britons to a serious bacterial infection that could lead to deadly pneumonia, a series of new studies have revealed

Holidaymakers are advised to run taps to allow standing water which may be infected with Legionnaires' disease to escape.  Scientists fear bacteria - which accumulate in standing water - have multiplied during the long Covid lockdown when many hotels were closed

Holidaymakers are advised to run taps to allow standing water which may be infected with Legionnaires’ disease to escape. Scientists fear bacteria – which accumulate in standing water – 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 vacation in the Dominican Republic.

After falling violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea in September 2019, she was taken to hospital where she developed pneumonia and had difficulty breathing and walking.

She developed organ failure and died. Lynn’s husband, Melvyn, 73, arrived home with a letter from the travel company that arranged the trip, warning of contaminated water at their hotel. Several guests, the letter explained, had contracted Legionnaires’ disease. Lynn had used the shower before she got sick.

The Legionella bug thrives in large buildings – such as hotels and office buildings – where it thrives in water supplies, especially in hot climates where heat helps it reproduce.

Rusty, dirty swimming pools and air conditioners are common sites of contamination because they can accumulate hot, stagnant water that disperses as droplets in the air, which are then inhaled.

But bacteria can also hide in showers and faucets that haven’t been used for a few days. Now microbiology experts are warning holidaymakers to take vital steps to protect themselves from the risk of infection. This is especially crucial post-pandemic, as some resorts may have only recently opened some hotel rooms as the travel industry returns to normal.

“Run the shower in your hotel or apartment as soon as you get there, in case it hasn’t been used for a few days,” says microbiologist Dr. Tom Makin, independent adviser to hotels and resorts on the Legionella control. “Leave the bathroom and let it run for five to ten minutes. Then, holding your breath, return to the bathroom and turn off the shower before leaving. Wait 30 minutes before going to the toilet to let disperse the contaminated droplets. If the bathroom has a window, open it and turn on the extractor hood if there is one.’

Health and safety guidelines state that the hot water supply should be kept at a minimum of 50°C, as the bug cannot survive this heat. Likewise, cold water must be below 20°C to stop the growth of bacteria. Hotels, recreation centers and large buildings must regularly treat water with chemicals to destroy Legionella colonies. But recent studies suggest that many don’t. In a report published in the journal Travel Medicine And Infectious Diseases, scientists who tested 204 hotels in the Canary Islands – visited by 600,000 Britons a year – found that 12% had Legionella bacteria in their plumbing, air conditioning or swimming pools .

A similar study in Greece found that out of 51 hotels, 75% had contamination of the water supply. And in September 2021, tests on water samples from 118 hotels in Morocco found that more than half had levels of legionella sufficient to cause illness.

About half of the 300 to 400 Britons infected with Legionella each year catch it abroad. Once the infection is diagnosed, doctors call the disease Legionnaires’ disease.

While the average death rate is around one in ten, in people with weakened immune systems, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or kidney failure, it can be as high as 30%.

Outbreaks also occur in the UK. Vacationers returning home from their break should repeat the shower routine, says Dr. Makin, in case bacteria has built up in the shower head. “Run your own shower when you get home, if the house is empty and no one is using it,” he adds. “The same goes for garden hoses.”

A 2017 survey found that almost a third of water samples taken from shower heads and bathroom pipes in 100 domestic properties in the south of England showed traces of legionella.

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