Sydney New Year’s Eve: Millions of Aussies are warned they may have been exposed to deadly legionnaires’ disease

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Millions of people who visited Sydney’s CBD over Christmas and New Years are being urged to stay alert for symptoms of legionnaires’ disease after seven people were diagnosed with the debilitating lung illness.

NSW Health issued a health alert on Wednesday for anyone who visited the city centre since Christmas Eve, or the past 10 days, to monitor for symptoms including coughing, fever, shortness of breath and headaches.

It comes after three women and four men, aged from their 20s to 70s, were admitted to hospital with pneumonia before being identified to have been carrying the legionella bacteria, which causes legionnaires’ disease.

The people are believed to have visited locations in the Sydney’s CBD between Bathurst St, Sussex St, Elizabeth St and Circular Quay, all locations frequented over the holiday period, in the 10 days prior to their symptoms.

Millions of people who have been in the CBD since Christmas Eve have been urged to monitor for legionnaires’ disease after seven people were diagnosed with the disease (stock image)

NSW Health said symptoms of legionnaires’ disease could develop up to 10 days after the time of exposure to contaminated water particles in the air and can lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.

The disease cannot be spread from person to person. Instead, it is usually spread by contaminated water particles emitted by a cooling system. Smokers and those with underlying health and lung problems are most at risk.

NSW Health said environmental health officers were working closely with the City of Sydney Council to inspect cooling towers and that a review of maintenance records of could help determine further towers to be inspected.

‘Managers of buildings with cooling towers are being contacted and informed of the cluster. Building owners should ensure that their cooling towers are operated and maintained in compliance with regulation,’ they said.

More than a million people flocked to the city's centre just on New Year's Eve to watch the world-renowned firework displays (pictured)

More than a million people flocked to the city’s centre just on New Year’s Eve to watch the world-renowned firework displays (pictured)

‘Public health units in local health districts across NSW follow up cases of Legionnaires’ disease and work closely with local councils in the management of cooling towers.

‘Routine monthly testing of cooling towers allows the early identification of contaminated towers and allows for prompt additional cleaning and corrective actions.’

A variant of legionnaires’ disease can also be spread through soil and potting mix. In September, NSW Health said as many as 52 people had been exposed to the disease as a result of people breathing in the bacteria from soil.

WHAT IS LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE? 

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia that causes lung inflammation.

It is caused by a bacterium, known as Legionella.

Around 500 people in the UK and 6,100 in the US suffer every year.  

The condition can cause life-threatening complications, including respiratory failure, kidney failure and septic shock, which occurs when blood flow to the vital organs is blocked.

Most sufferers become ill by inhaling tiny water droplets from infected sources, such as shower heads, hot tubs, swimming pools or ventilation systems in buildings.

Anyone can become infected, however, at-risk people include the elderly, smokers and those with suppressed immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients.

Symptoms usually develop between two and 10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Early signs include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever and chills

People may then experience:

  • Cough, which may bring up blood
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Confusion 

Treatment is antibiotics, usually in hospital, as soon as possible.  

Prevention involves meticulous cleaning and disinfection of water systems.

People can reduce their risk by not smoking as this damages the lungs and makes individuals more susceptible. 

Source: Mayo Clinic 

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