Fatal Legionnaires’ outbreak in Edinburgh
The Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, has taken a serious turn following the death of a man who had contracted the disease. The man, who was in his 50s and had other underlying health problems, died on Tuesday at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. At the time, he was one of 15 people in a critical condition and undergoing treatment at the hospital for Legionnaires’ disease.
The number of people affected by the outbreak has risen sharply since the first case was identified on 28th May. Health authorities have disclosed that they are dealing with over 30 confirmed and suspected Legionnaires’ cases in the city. The majority of cases have been linked to the areas of Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton in south-west Edinburgh.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has increased efforts to find the source of the outbreak though. As legionella is difficult to culture, it may take up to ten days until results are available. The legionella bacteria is most commonly found in natural water bodies such as rivers and lakes, but can be transferred to artificial water supply systems such as water services and cooling towers. The disease is not contagious, but it is easily transmitted through contaminated drops of water.
The city’s industrial cooling towers have been identified as the likely source and, in efforts to stop further spread of the disease, environmental health staff from Edinburgh Council have chemically treated 16 cooling towers. Other potential sources are still being investigated.
Medical staff are now trying to identify other cases that are yet to come to attention, in order to gauge the true scale of the outbreak. Health officials have revealed it could take until the weekend to know the full extent of the outbreak due to the disease’s long incubation period.
Public health consultant Dr Duncan McCormick was keen to reassure the public. “Household water supplies are safe and… Legionnaires’ disease cannot be contracted by drinking water”, he said. “We’d hope that by the weekend – five or six days after the treatment, we’ll start to see a decline in cases.”
Those at greatest risk of contracting the disease are older people (especially men), heavy smokers and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include muscle pains, nausea, fever and diarrhoea. Though the risk to the general population is low, anyone suffering from symptoms is being strongly urged to contact their GP.