How to avoid the deadly Legionnaires’ bacteria that can cause life-threatening pneumonia lurking in standing water in your hotel shower
- Two-thirds of hotels in tourist resorts have tested positive for legionella
- Hotels and Greece, Canary Islands and Morocco have been tested for the bug
- Holidaymakers have been urged to run taps and showers before using water
- The bug is feared to have built up while hotels were closed during the Covid crisis
Popular holiday resorts could put Britons at risk of a serious bacterial infection that could lead to life-threatening pneumonia, new studies have revealed.
Scientists have found that up to two-thirds of hotels in destinations such as Greece, the Canary Islands and Morocco are at risk of spreading the infection – called Legionella or Legionella disease – that lurks in standing water.
Now microbiologists are urging vacationers to run faucets and showers before coming into contact with the water, over fears that insects have accumulated while buildings were closed during the Covid lockdowns.
Popular holiday 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
Vacationers are advised to leave the taps running to allow any sitting water that may be contaminated with Legionnaires’ disease to escape. Scientists fear the bacteria – which accumulate in standing 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 is said to have died after contracting the infection while on holiday in the Dominican Republic.
After falling violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea in September 2019, she was taken to hospital where she developed pneumonia and had difficulty breathing and walking.
She developed organ failure and died. Lynn’s husband Melvyn, 73, came home with a letter from the tour company that arranged the trip warning of contaminated water in their hotel. According to the letter, several guests had contracted Legionnaires’ disease. Lynn had used the shower before she became unwell.
The Legionella bacterium 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.
Swimming pools and rusty, dirty air conditioning units are common sites of contamination, as they can collect warm, standing water that is dispersed into the air as droplets and then inhaled.
But the bacteria can also lurk in showers and faucets that aren’t used for a few days. Now microbiology experts are warning vacationers to take essential measures to protect themselves from the risk of infection. This is especially critical after the pandemic, as some resorts may have only recently opened select hotel rooms as the travel industry returns to normal.
“Do the shower in your hotel or apartment as soon as you get there, in case it hasn’t been used for a few days,” says microbiologist Dr Tom Makin, independent consultant to hotels and resorts on Legionella control. “Exit the bathroom and let it run for five to 10 minutes. Then, hold 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 extractor hood if there is one.’
According to health and safety guidelines, the hot water supply must be kept at a minimum of 50°C, as the beetle cannot survive in this heat. Likewise, cold water must be below 20C to stop the reproduction of bacteria. Hotels, leisure centers and large buildings must regularly treat water with chemicals to destroy Legionella colonies. But recent studies suggest that many don’t. 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 75 percent of the 51 hotels had contamination in the water supply. And in September 2021, tests on water samples from 118 hotels in Morocco revealed that more than half had legionella levels sufficient to cause illness.
About half of the 300 to 400 British people who are infected with Legionella every year, get it abroad. Once the infection is established, doctors call the condition Legionnaires’ Disease.
While the average death rate is about one in ten, it can be as high as 30 percent in people with weakened immune systems, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis or kidney failure.
Outbreaks also occur in the UK. Vacationers returning home after their break should repeat the shower routine, Dr. Makin says, in case bacteria build up in the shower head. “Do your own shower when you get home, if the house has been empty and no one has used it,” he adds. “The same goes for garden hoses.”
A 2017 study found that nearly a third of water samples taken from shower heads and bathroom pipes in 100 homes in southern England had traces of Legionella.