November 29, 2012 7.00 am This story is over 115 months old

Council finds bacteria in water system on Lincoln street

Chemical treatment: Elderly residents at a sheltered accommodation block in Lincoln provided with bottled water and off-site washing facilities

The City Council discovered high readings of the bacteria Legionella in parts of the water system on a street in Lincoln.

Elderly residents at the 51 sheltered bedsits at St Botolph’s Court off the High Street in Lincoln have been provided with safe drinking water and off-site bathing facilities at De Wint Court, on De Wint Avenue.

On Wednesday the council said it hired specialist contractor ES Global to chemically flush and disinfect the affected pipework.

It is estimated the chemical flush will take around 36 hours. Once completed, additional testing will be used to check Legionella levels are safe.

None of the residents in the affected building have developed symptoms of the bacterial infection so far.

Legionella is a bacteria which, if it becomes airborne, can be inhaled and develop into Legionnaire’s disease. This can develop into pneumonia in certain cases.

John Bibby, Director of Housing and Community Services at City of Lincoln Council, said: “The health and well-being of our residents is the council’s highest priority.

“We understand that they and their families will be concerned, but we have taken these steps to ensure the health of all those living in St Botolph’s Court.”

Residents in the accommodation have been advised to prevent the spread of Legionella by keeping the toilet seat down, using anti-bacterial wipes and gels for hand washing and not using hot water.

Mr Bibby added: “We have written letters to the residents explaining the situation and have provided bottled water.

“We are taking this matter very seriously and have spoken to individuals living in the building to ensure they have not had any symptoms of ill health over the last few weeks.”

Tests at nearby properties have not been carried out as the council said the bacteria does not spread from one individual water system to another.

Legionella FAQ

Legionella under UV light. Photo: CDC

What is Legionella and what illnesses can it cause?

Legionella is a bacteria (germ) found in the environment. It can cause two types of illness:

  • Legionnaires’ disease, which is a pneumonia (lung infection) and can often be a severe illness
  • Pontiac fever, which is a milder flu-like illness.

Where is Legionella found?

Legionella bacteria is widely distributed in the environment and has previously been found in ponds and rivers. Problems arise when it contaminates man-made water systems, such as the water in air conditioning cooling systems, hot and cold water systems in buildings, spa pools, cooling towers and other artificial water systems.

How do you get Legionnaires disease or Pontiac fever?

The commonest way to get these illnesses is through inhaling water droplets from a contaminated water system containing the bacteria.

Could I pass this on to family or other contacts?

No. Legionella cannot spread from person to person.

Who is at risk?

For people who are healthy the risk is extremely low. The risk is increased for:

  • People over the age of 50 years
  • Men more than women
  • Individuals whose immune system is suppressed
  • Patients with chronic lung disease
  • Individuals who smoke.

What are the symptoms?

  • ‘Flu-like’ illness
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Dry cough
  • High fever (39.5°C – 103°F)

Sometimes diarrhoea and confusion may develop.

How soon do the symptoms occur?

The time between exposure to the bacteria and onset of symptoms (incubation period) is between 2 and 10 days, typically 5-6 days. In rare cases some people may develop symptoms as late as two weeks after exposure.

How is it diagnosed?

It is diagnosed either by testing a urine sample, a blood sample or a sample of saliva.

What is the treatment?

Treatment is with appropriate antibiotics, which will be prescribed by your doctor.

Legionella factsheet via NHS [PDF]