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legionella bacteria

Can Air Conditioning Cause Legionnaires’ Disease?

Basically, no. But OK, we realise that for lots of people, that probably won’t be enough! You might be familiar with Legionnaires’ Disease – there are 200 to 300 reported cases each year in the UK. The real numbers suspected to be slightly more, given the number of cases that likely go unreported. 90% of people diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease make a full recovery, but it’s understandably still a source of some concern, with many wondering about the role that air conditioning plays in the spread of Legionnaires’ Disease. This week, we thought we’d put some of those concerns to rest!

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Essentially, Legionnaires’ Disease is a respiratory disorder caused by inhaling Legionella Pneumophila, a bacterium generally found in rivers, streams and lakes. When inhaled, this bacteria can potentially induce a type of illness referred to as the Legionellosis infection, and Legionnaires’ Disease is the most serious form this; it triggers pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs, and in 10 to 15% of cases, it can even be fatal. Symptoms include chills, a fever, coughing, tiredness and fatigue, muscle aches and decreased appetite.

bacteria in rivers and lakes

Anyone can get it, but the illness typically affects individuals with a compromised immune system, chronic diseases that affect the lungs, smokers or middle aged folks or older. It’s worth noting, though, that less than 5% of people exposed to the bacteria will develop the disease – on the whole, our immune systems are pretty efficient at dealing with the bacteria.

How Is Legionnaires’ Disease Contracted?

We mentioned inhalation above – specifically, Legionnaires’ Disease comes about when an individual inhales fine mist from a source of water that’s been contaminated. The bacteria feeds on algae, rust, scale or sludge, and thrives in warm water between 20oC and 45oC. Having said all that, it’s not contagious, so Legionnaires’ Disease can’t be passed from patient to patient.

Can Air Conditioning Cause Legionnaires’ Disease?

rust and water

Back onto the big question: essentially, no. As we noted above, the Legionella Pneumophila bacteria breeds in water, not air conditioning vents. That means if you’re worried about the possibility of Legionnaires’ Disease then to be honest, your air conditioning system isn’t the first place you should look!

As we touched on above, you should first check sources of water in your building. Your air conditioning unit will only really become relevant in two sets of circumstances:

  • If your air conditioning uses a water–based system of cooling a refrigerant, which then becomes infected with the Legionella bacteria
  • If Legionella bacteria are present elsewhere in the building, which can contaminate your system and result in the bacteria being spread throughout the building

If that still sounds worrying, don’t panic yet – there’s an easy solution to ensuring that neither you or your staff are at risk. Mainly, it’s just a matter of staying on top of your cleaning schedule! You should make sure that you keep any water sources in your building regularly cleaned, which deprives the bacteria of the rust, algae and other matter they need to breed.

And regarding your air conditioning system, all it takes is a straightforward service and maintenance, undertaken twice annually. In fact, that’s one of the key services we provide here at Askews! Not only does it keep your system running efficiently, saving you costs on your energy bills, but it can even help you protect the health of both you and your staff, too. Click here for a free quote, or simply give us a call on 01282 863 825.

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