Legionnaires disease is a rare but serious form of pneumonia that is spread by water. It is caused by legionella bacteria, which can grow in hot water tanks and plumbing systems. The risk is greater where water has remained stagnant and unused for some time, such as in a vacant property.
Symptoms of legionnaires disease include a high temperature, cough, muscle pain, shortness of breath, tiredness and headaches. These symptoms can often be mistaken for flu, but it is important that those who may have caught the condition are diagnosed correctly as, in severe cases, it can be life-threatening.
Although the disease is uncommon, landlords should be aware of it and should take steps to minimize the chance of water sources at their properties carrying the bacteria.
So how can the risk of legionella bacteria formation be reduced? The best way is for landlords to check their water systems, paying particular attention to areas where water is stored or continually re-circulated (such as water tanks, showers and pipes). The water in these areas should be flushed through regularly – this means that taps that are little used, for example, should be switched on regularly to ensure that stagnant water does not remain present for a long period (tenants should be advised of this if such outlets exist at the property).
Another way in which landlords can diminish the legionnaires risk is by ensuring that the water supply at the property is at the correct temperature. This means that hot water should be above 50°C and cold water should be below 20°C.
Reviews of the water supply should be conducted regularly (i.e. annually or at the start and end of tenancies) to lessen the probability of legionella bacteria developing.
What else can be done? Tenants should also be aware and vigilant, reporting any extreme changes in water temperature (e.g. hot water that should be cold, or vice versa) and any boiler or hot water tank faults. They should also ensure that water outlets such as taps and showers are kept clean and that any debris found in the water supply is investigated.
It is important that all water outlets are flushed through with clean water regularly (for example, weekly) even when a property is vacant – something which landlords should bear in mind.
Although the risk of legionnaires disease cannot be completely eradicated, it can be minimised by following this simple advice. Moreover, if you feel ill and there’s a chance it could be related to infected water, seek advice from a medical professional.
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