Holiday How to avoid the deadly legionnaire bug

How to avoid the deadly bug of a legionnaire that can cause a life-threatening pneumonia that hides in stagnant water in your hotel shower

  • Two-thirds of hotels in tourist resorts tested positive for legionnaires
  • Hotels and Greece, the Canary Islands and Morocco were tested for the bug
  • Holidaymakers were encouraged to run taps and showers before using water
  • It is feared that the bug could form while hotels were closed during the Covid crisis

Popular resorts could put Britons at risk of a serious bacterial infection that could lead to life-threatening pneumonia, a series of new studies have revealed.

Scientists have found that up to two-thirds of hotels in destinations included GreeceThe Canary Islands and Morocco are at risk of spreading the infection – called legionella, or legionnaires’ disease – which lurks in stagnant water.

Now microbiologists are urging holidaymakers to take care of taps and showers before they come in contact with the water, for fears that bugs had accumulated while the sites were closed during the Covid lock.

Popular resorts could put Britons at risk of a serious bacterial infection that could lead to life-threatening pneumonia, a series of new studies have revealed.

Holidaymakers are advised to roll up the taps to allow any sitting water that could be infected with Legionnaires' disease to escape.  Scientists fear that the bacteria - which accumulate in stagnant water - may have multiplied during the long Covid lockdown when many hotels were closed.

Holidaymakers are advised to turn on the taps to allow any sitting water that could be infected with Legionnaires’ disease to escape. Scientists fear that the bacteria – which accumulate in stagnant water – may have multiplied during the long Covid lockdown when many hotels were closed.

It comes months after 70-year-old Lynn Stigwood of Buckinghamshire was reported to have died after contracting the infection while on holiday in the Dominican Republic.

After suffering from severe vomiting and diarrhea in September 2019, she was taken to a hospital where she developed pneumonia and struggled to breathe and walk.

She developed organ failure and died. Lynn Melvyn’s husband, 73, arrived home with a letter from the travel company arranging the trip, warning of contaminated water at their hotel. Several guests, the letter explained, contracted legionnaires’ disease. Lynn used the shower before it got worse.

The legionella insect thrives in large buildings – such as hotels and office buildings – where it grows in the water supply, especially in warm climates where the heat helps it reproduce.

Pools and rusty, dirty air conditioners are common places of pollution because they can accumulate hot, stagnant water that is dispersed like droplets in the air, which are then inhaled.

But the bacteria can also lurk in rains and faucets that have not been used for a few days. Now microbiology experts are warning holidaymakers to take essential steps to protect themselves from the risk of infection. This is especially crucial after a pandemic, as some resorts may have only recently opened certain hotel rooms while the travel industry returns to normal.

“Run the shower at your hotel or apartment as soon as you get there if it hasn’t been used for a few days,” says microbiologist Dr. Tom Makin, an independent hotel and resort consultant on legionella control. ‘Get out of the bathroom and let it run for five to ten minutes. Then, holding your breath, go back to the bathroom and turn off the shower before leaving again. Wait 30 minutes before using the bathroom to allow any contaminated droplets to disperse. If the bathroom has a window, open it and turn on the fan, if there is one. ‘

Health and safety guidelines state that hot water supplies must be kept at a minimum of 50C, as the bug cannot survive at this heat. Likewise, cold water should be below 20C to stop the reproduction of bacteria. Hotels, leisure centers and large buildings must regularly treat water with chemicals to destroy legion colonies. But recent studies suggest that many do not. In a report in the journal Travel Medicine And Infectious Diseases, scientists who tested 204 hotels in the Canary Islands – visited by 600,000 Britons a year – found that 12 percent had legionella bacteria in their plumbing, air conditioning or swimming pools.

A similar study in Greece found that out of 51 hotels, 75 percent showed pollution in the water supply. And in September 2021, tests on water samples from 118 hotels in Morocco revealed that more than half had levels of legionella sufficient to cause disease.

About half of the 300 to 400 Britons who are infected with legionella catch it abroad each year. Once the infection is diagnosed, doctors call the condition a legionnaires’ disease.

While the average death rate is about one in ten, in those with weakened immune systems, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or kidney failure, it can be as high as 30 percent.

Outbreaks also occur in the UK. Holidaymakers arriving home after their break should repeat the shower routine, Dr. Makin says, if bacteria has accumulated in the shower head. “Run your own shower when you get home if the house was empty and no one was using it,” he adds. ‘The same goes for garden shoes.

A 2017 survey found that nearly a third of water samples taken from shower heads and bathroom pipes in 100 domestic properties in the South of England had traces of legionella.

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