It can be easy to forget your shower can be a dangerous place if it's not fitted properly, or you're using an outdated system. Despite the fact it is a device that was invented for the purpose of keeping us clean, it can potentially harbour harmful bacteria if conditions are left to stagnate.
Whether or not this was the case at Leicester General Hospital is unclear, but the facility has recently been forced to close showers on two of its wards due to the discovery of legionella bacteria in its water system.
BBC News reports there have been no cases of infection and the steps to ban showers and distribute bottled water are precautionary, after the virus was found as part of routine safety checks.
While hospital bosses have emphasised the risk of Legionnaires' disease among patients "remains low", the story itself highlights how bad the situation might have become if the bacteria had passed through the system undetected.
Recently, the Plumbing & Heating Contractors Alliance's (PHCA) drive to educate plumbing organisations on the latest guidelines regarding legionella assessments has been starting to gain traction, so now seems a good a time as any to go into further details over what exactly is Legionnaires' disease and how the risks of it developing can be minimised.
What is Legionnaires' disease?
A form of pneumonia, Legionnaires' usually affects the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and is three times more common in men than women.
It can be a potentially fatal illness and, according to the NHS, affects around 350 people every year.
A person develops the disease when they inhale water droplets that have been contaminated with legionella bacteria, which thrives in environments that are warm and where the water is stagnant. This is often the case in hot water cylinders, cold water storage cisterns and rainwater harvesting systems.
How can Legionnaires' be controlled?
Often, the best way to reduce the risk of legionella bacteria developing is to pay close attention to the water system and any design flaws or conditions that may lend themselves to the germs being cultivated.
The PHCA's latest scheme has been launched to allow plumbers to demonstrate they understand and are compliant with the Health and Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice for Legionnaires’ disease, which was revised last year to ensure all hot and cold water systems within commercial properties and those with public access are effectively evaluated.
These types of buildings, which cover facilities like hospitals, schools, care homes and hotels are particularly susceptible to the growth of the bacteria because they often have large, complex water systems.
One of the easiest ways to destroy the bacteria in hot water systems is to raise the temperature. Legionella will die at around 50 degrees celsius, so heating it up to 60 degrees for a sustained period of time - ten minutes should be enough - should guarantee its eradication.
However, this can result in scalding, so measures should be put in place to ensure the water is cooled again before it reaches the tap.
Another means of reducing the risk of legionella is to analyse any weak points within a system where it might be likely that water could become stagnant. For example, poorly positioned outlet pipes result in this occurring, while organic deposits that sometimes gather in cold water cisterns can also collect together at the bottom of the container.
Keeping water free of impurities and ensuring it is moving is vital, while plumbers should also be able to note the temperature is below 20 degrees (if it can't be kept above 60). Regular maintenance checks to establish this is the case are essential, with potentially severe consequences if it isn't.For more information visit http://www.legionellacontroluk.com