Chilly hiding places for legionnaire’s disease

A serious health risk in large buildings where air-conditioning units are not properly maintained is the Legionella pneumophila bacteria that causes legionnaire’s disease, which can thrive in the water in cooling towers. The bacteria has appeared in hospital building air conditioners in Greece. «Regular maintenance of cooling systems in large buildings is of the utmost importance in order to avoid the growth of Legionella bacteria in cooling tower waters,» said Professor Jenny Kremastinou, of the National Public Health School. In a study conducted along with the technical colleges at Attica hospitals in 1996-1997, the school found the bacteria in the plumbing systems of 40 percent of the hospitals inspected. Steps were taken immediately to remove the bacteria and prevent a recurrence. The bacteria causes the disease when inhaled in mists from a contaminated water source and cannot be passed from person to person. Legionnaire’s disease begins with fever, catarrh, headaches and aching muscles, followed by a dry cough which can develop into pneumonia. In about a third of cases, diarrhea and vomiting occur and in about half, some kind of mental confusion. The mortality rate is about 15 percent. The most vulnerable groups are the aged, smokers and those who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions. Kremastinou says about five cases of legionnaire’s disease are recorded every year in Greece. The incidence may be higher, as doctors do not test for the disease or report it. Hotels are another source of infection; there are about three cases reported for every million tourists who visit Greece every year, says Kremastinou. The disease was named in 1976 when an outbreak of pneumonia occurred among participants at a convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia. The bacteria can survive only in air-conditioning systems that use water; it does not develop in auto air conditioners or household window air-conditioning units. «Final decisions will be strictly within the framework established by the new constitutional provisions and based on the need to protect the public interest and the development of forestry eco-systems,» it said in an announcement. However, it appears that it is not only the protection of the environment but the political cost that will determine the date the bill is tabled as well as its content.