Legionella alert

16 February 2021
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Further to the NSW Health alert issued on Friday regarding an increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) is advising residents to be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease following notification of a number of local cases.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by Legionella pneumophila bacteria and can cause severe respiratory symptoms.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person and is not contagious. Outbreaks of the disease are most frequently linked to contaminated water cooling systems of air conditioning plants in large buildings.

ISLHD Director of Public Health, Curtis Gregory said there have been six confirmed cases of Legionella pneumophila in the Wollongong Local Government Area (LGA) over the past three months and five cases in the Nowra/Bomaderry area in the past two weeks. An additional case in the Shoalhaven region has been notified this morning and is currently under investigation.

“Legionnaire’s disease symptoms can develop up to 10 days from the time of exposure to contaminated water particles in the air and include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath and may lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.

“If you experience these symptoms please visit your GP. People who develop this disease are diagnosed by chest X-ray and a urine test and usually require antibiotic treatment in hospital,” Mr Gregory said.

The ISLHD Public Health Unit (PHU) has investigated each case of Legionnaire’s disease and no specific source has been identified. The PHU continues to investigate the cases, monitor for additional cases and an alert has been issued to GPs and clinicians in the District about the possibility of cases.

“The PHU has reviewed all the cooling towers in the affected areas in the Wollongong LGA and the Nowra/Bombaderry area. They have also completed on-site inspections and sampling of cooling towers in these areas. Results for the Wollongong LGA have not returned any positive detections for legionella bacteria and we are awaiting the results for Nowra/Bomaderry,” Mr Gregory said.

An increase in the number of cases towards the end of a warm, wet summer is not unusual. Legionella and other bacteria can grow rapidly, especially in warmer summer months.

The PHU routinely works closely with local councils in the management of cooling towers. Routine testing of cooling towers helps identify contamination early and allows for prompt cleaning and corrective actions.

In 2018 NSW Health strengthened the Public Health Regulation to reduce the community’s risk of Legionnaires’ disease, requiring building owners to conduct risk assessments and monthly tests on cooling towers and notify high levels of Legionella and other bacteria to local councils.

“The increase in local cases of Legionnaires’ disease is a timely reminder to businesses and building owners of their obligations under the Public Health Regulation 2012 to ensure their cooling towers are properly maintained.

“The best methods of control are preventative measures such as properly cleaning, maintaining and operating cooling towers. It is also important that operational issues are remediated immediately,” Mr Gregory said.

For more information about water cooling systems management contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 or visit the NSW Health Legionella Control page. For more information on Legionnaires’ disease visit the NSW Health Legionnaires' disease fact sheet.