Australians heading back to work have been warned against another potentially fatal illness, legionnaires’ disease, due to a heightened risk of Legionella bacteria growing in the office air-conditioning.
With COVID-19 restrictions set to ease around the country in coming months, thousands of people will resume working in buildings that have lain empty for weeks.
According to a water treatment expert, cooling systems should be put into hibernation rather than partially, or completely, shut off when not in use to minimise growth of Legionella bacteria.
HydroChem chief executive Nicholas Duncan said if that did not happen, building managers should flush the system of water before testing for the bacteria.
“Buildings that have been partially or fully shut down for more than a week are likely to have stagnant water in the pipework,” Duncan said.
Putrid water increases the risk of propagating Legionella.
Duncan says companies must be mindful of people at a higher risk of contracting legionnaires’ disease, including those with pre-existing or immunity-related health conditions.
Symptoms of the disease are similar to COVID-19 and can include fever, chills, a cough, shortness of breath and potentially fatal pneumonia.
They can develop up to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria and infection is diagnosed by chest X-ray and a urine test, and sufferers usually require a hospital stay on antibiotics.
There have been several legionnaires’ outbreaks this year, including in late February when three people in the central Sydney suburb of Haymarket contracted the disease.
It cannot be spread from person to person, with clusters most commonly linked to contaminated water cooling systems of air-conditioning plants in large buildings.
By Sophie Moore