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Summer health warning over killer disease that can spread in hot tubs

Urgent summer health warning over killer disease that can spread in hot tubs

  • Not cleaning hot tubs and shower heads can cause Legionnaires’ disease 
  • The life-threatening bacteria has symptoms similar to pneumonia

Summer revellers were today reminded about a serious bacterial infection which  can lurk inside hot tubs.

Legionnaires’ disease, which can trigger life-threatening pneumonia, can also be spread through air condition units, taps and showers.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, said the legionella bacteria responsible can be found in almost ‘anything’.

This includes a ‘complex plumbing system, showerheads, hot tubs and decorative fountains’, he added.

Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘It’s even been found in car washer bottles filled with tap water instead of detergent windscreen washer.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease can be found lurking in swimming pools, hot tubs and shower heads. If you own a hot tub or home spa, it is essential you regularly drain, clean and disinfect it

‘Complex air conditioning systems can sometimes become contaminated.

‘But the types of aircon you find in cars and domestically do not use water, so aren’t a problem.’

Legionella typically thrives in large buildings — such as hotels and office blocks — where it grows in the water supply.

It is especially a problem in warm climates, where the heat helps it reproduce.

Swimming pools and dirty air con units are common sites of contamination as they can accumulate warm, stagnant water which gets dispersed as droplets in the air, which are then inhaled.

What are the symptoms of legionnaires’ disease? 

The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease is similar to pneumonia.

 Symptoms can develop between two and 10 days after breathing in the bacteria. 

The symptoms can include:

  • Coughing
  • High temperature
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or discomfort

In severe cases other symptoms can include:

  • Feeling and being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Confusion 

People who are admitted to hospital with the disease may be given antibiotics directly in a vein, given oxygen therapy or be put on a ventilator. 

Source: Asthma and Lung UK 

But the bacteria, found naturally in freshwater, can also sit in showers and taps that have not been used for a few days.

This is why some experts urge holidaymakers to run taps and showers before having contact with the water.

Roughly half of the 300 Brits who get infected with the legionella bug every year get it overseas. 

Once the infection is diagnosed, doctors then refer to the condition as legionnaires’ disease. 

Symptoms include a cough, difficulty breathing and chest pain.

The average death rate is about one in ten. But among those with weakened immune systems, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or kidney failure, it can be as high as 30 per cent.

Health and safety guidelines say hot water supplies must be kept at a minimum 50C, as the bug cannot survive at this heat. 

Likewise, cold water should be below 20C to stop the bacteria breeding. 

At home, you can reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease by removing any build-up around shower heads because this can trap water, says Asthma and Lung UK.

The charity adds that if you have showers or taps you have not used recently, you should flush them through by running water for five minutes every two weeks.

If you own a hot tub or home spa, it is also essential you regularly drain, clean and disinfect it.

Although anyone can develop Legionnaires’ disease and infection is not unheard of in the UK, Dr Clarke says it is not something people should ‘worry about on a day-to-day basis’.

But some people are at a higher risk of infection.

People over the age of 45, smokers and former smokers, those with a lung condition, a drug or alcohol addiction, people with compromised immune systems or chronic long term health conditions like diabetes or kidney failure are at a higher risk of getting sick, according to Asthma and Lung UK.

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  • Posted on June 15, 2023