Another Deadly Respiratory Disease Potentially Came Out During COVID-19 Lockdowns
COVID-19 forced many countries to close offices, schools, gyms and other buildings because of the high risk of infections. But as some parts of the world prepare to reopen, a health expert warned that the months-long lockdowns potentially allowed another deadly disease to invade many areas.
Previously abandoned buildings potentially have become a breeding ground for Legionnaires’ disease. The respiratory disease causes severe pneumonia and can be deadly without immediate treatment.
Legionnaires’ also shares similar symptoms with COVID-19. Both conditions cause fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and muscle pain.
However, people cannot catch Legionnaires’ disease from an infected person. It affects people through inhaled water droplets or mist carrying the Legionella pneumophila bacteria.
“Legionnaires’ does not spread from person to person but causes large community outbreaks through contaminated airborne water droplets from sources including showerheads, taps, cooling towers, air-conditioning systems, spa pools, hot tubs and water fountains,” according to Anne Clayson, associate professor in occupational hygiene and occupational health at the University of Manchester.
L. pneumophila commonly live in warm environments and feed on pipework sludge and sediment. Long periods of inactivity in buildings allows the bacteria to breed and eventually contaminate water systems.
Clayson said lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased the risk of Legionnaires’ outbreaks. Plans to reopen states and businesses during summer also adds to the problem since L. pneumophila is more active in warm temperatures.
“All water systems are at risk of this foreseeable and preventable contamination, but dormant and decommissioned buildings are especially at risk,” Clayson said in an article posted on the Conversation. “That’s because intermittent use of buildings and equipment and the interruption of cleaning regimes increase the likelihood of water stagnation, which in turn increases the likelihood of a Legionella outbreak.”
Legionnaires’ Disease Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Clayson said people are likely to see a sudden spread of Legionnaires’ disease in countries that closed large numbers of buildings due to very strict lockdowns. These countries include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
She added that prior to the pandemic, the said nations were already facing problems because of high cases of Legionnaires’ disease. In 2017, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the Netherlands covered 70 percent of all cases in Europe.
The U.S. is also at risk of new Legionnaires’ outbreaks. Reported cases of the disease in the country are now 800 percent higher than records in the past 20 years.
Clayson said Legionnaires’ disease also targets people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Both diseases can easily affect older adults, men and those with chronic lung conditions and other illnesses, like diabetes.
Since all 50 states previously announced plans to reopen following weeks of lockdowns, Clayson suggested that the public and private officials require comprehensive assessment of water systems in offices, schools, factories and other buildings to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.