Commercial buildings closed for weeks to curb the spread of coronaviruses could trigger another dangerous lung infection: Legionnaires’ disease.
Public health experts are urging homeowners worldwide to carefully reopen buildings to prevent a severe, sometimes deadly, form of pneumonia.
The sudden and rapid closure of schools, factories, businesses and government offices has created an unprecedented decline in water use.
The lack of chlorinated water flowing through the water pipes combined with irregular changes in temperature have created the conditions for bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease, they said.
If diagnosed early, Legionnaires’ disease has a lower health risk than covid-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus. The disease is not transmitted from person to person and most cases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
However, as authorities consider reopening, any commercial building vacated or underused for more than three weeks is at risk of outbreaks of legionnaires.
Unless water pipes are properly flushed and otherwise repaired, health experts and government officials said.
“After surviving covid-19, who wants to open a building and have another set of significant safety issues?” Asked Molly Scanlon, an Arizona environmental scientist. “Our healthcare system is already under enough pressure,” she added.
The high-risk buildings include schools, gymnasiums, factories, restaurants, surgery centers without patients, Scanlon said.
According to the updated guidelines of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The threat also applies to hot tubs, fountains, water sprinkler systems and millions of cooling towers on commercial buildings.
“It’s a worldwide problem that can be addressed with precautionary measures,” said British microbiologist Susanne Surman-Lee. He also who also drafted the guidelines for the reopening of the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
“Most larger corporations with consultants are likely to be aware of the problem. But this will be a challenge for smaller stores, health clubs and hotels.”
Water and sanitation have joined the call for caution during the reopening.
a pneumonia named after the deadly outbreak in 1976 at a gathering of American Legionnaires in Philadelphia. It is a major aquatic disease in the United States.
Nearly 50,000 people were infected between 2000 and 2015, according to the CDC. People with Legionnaires’ disease develop pneumonia. Healthy people usually recover, but they often need hospitalization and antibiotics to treat a lung infection. About one in 10 patients dies, according to the CDC.
After the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2015, when 10 New Yorkers died and at least 100 people became ill. The city began regulating water cooling towers, which are suspected to be at fault.
That same year, 12 deaths in Flint, Michigan, were linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease . This was when officials shifted the city’s water source from the lake to the river without taking the necessary precautions.
Legionnaires’ disease is contagious when Legionella bacteria spread through the air like an aerosol from a water source . The sourcecan be such as whirlpool tubs, showers, fountains, and an industrial water cooling system.
The threat of Legionnaires’ disease is complex, some experts say,
because its victims tend to exhibit the same symptoms as patients with coronavirus, including cough and fever. So misdiagnosis is possible.
A recent study published by Chinese doctors in The Lancet Research . The study shows that 20 percent of coronavirus patients also had Legionnaires’ disease.
Dr. Xiang-Yang Han of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, who has long studied Legionnaires’ disease,
He said “he was less concerned about misdiagnosis and more concerned about prevention and planning when communities reopened.
“We can’t relax,” Han warned. “Do we have enough manpower to flush each facility? Of course, I’m worried. People are eager to start their business. But these are high-tech jobs and people need to know what they are doing. “
Han said anyone servicing water pipes before reopening should take the same precautions. Such as they would to prevent the coronavirus from spreading: wear gloves and a mask.
The Canadian Public Services and Procurement Agency issued a warning to government offices on April 6. Stating that pipes in buildings with little or no water flow for more than a week . That should be thoroughly flushed for at least 30 minutes.
Steve Via of the American Water Management Association, which includes utilities, scientists and experts, said small business owners should be especially vigilant.
All quarantined devices connected to the water system should be flushed out. “People don’t have to be scared about it, but they have to be careful,” Via said.