Idle office buildings could host another respiratory infection

Lynne Adkins
July 02, 2020 - 2:54 pm

    PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health is warning health care workers to be on the lookout for a rise in Legionnaires’ disease — the respiratory infection first discovered in Philadelphia in 1976.

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    More and more people are returning to office settings, but some of those buildings have been unoccupied for months due to stay-at-home orders.

    Dr. Lawrence Livornese, chair of medicine at Main Line Health, said employees may be at risk for Legionnaires’ disease if buildings are not properly maintained.

    “One of the places Legionella (bacteria) tend to thrive is in stagnant warm water,” he explained. “So if you have pipes in the building that aren’t being used on a regular basis, the count of bacteria, Legionella, increases in the pipes. Then, when you go to use that water again, it could potentially cause an infection.”

    Livornese noted drinking water is not the problem — it’s the mist from decorative fountains or cooling towers that could lead to the disease.

    “The most common way is if an aerosol is formed. If you have a shower and you create mist, the mist can have Legionella in it. Or, if you have a fountain that's running and splashing water, it creates a spray, and that can cause Legionella. 

    “If you are drinking water with Legionella, you could easily choke and get some water in your lungs and get an infection that way. But, it's the aerosol that we really worry about.”

    Legionnaires’ disease can lead to flu-like symptoms and pneumonia.