Hotels have been implicated with Legionellosis, since its discovery in 1976, with the first-ever recognised outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurring from a hotel in Philadelphia, USA, following a conference of the American Legion. Over 200 people fell ill following their stay at the hotel and 34 individuals subsequently died of the illness which became known as “Legionnaires Disease” because of this tragedy (1).
The fallout from this well-documented outbreak led to the identification of the actual causative bacterial agent Legionella pneumophila and the identification of the risks for spreading the bacteria that could be associated with water systems in large buildings such as hotels.
Fast forward by more than 45 years and our understanding of both Legionella spp. and the risks of poorly maintained water systems have increased exponentially, and yet outbreaks of the disease from hotel and resort settings are still occurring despite this knowledge.
According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control, USA)
“the problems that lead to Legionnaires’ disease are preventable through water management programs”
and it estimates that:
“9 out of 10 outbreaks are caused by problems preventable with more
effective water management” (2)
Isn’t that shocking? 90% of outbreaks could be avoided if only the hotel industry applied similar high standards to their water management programs as they surely do to their customer service expectations.
In the last year alone, several media reported cases of hotel-related Legionnaire’s disease in the USA including 2 cases in Minnesota (3) and at least 2 in Missouri (4). The European Legionnaires Disease Surveillance Network (ELDSNet) also has reports from the previous year of accommodation sites in EU/EEA countries where clusters of Legionnaires’ disease have been identified (5). These indicate hotel-associated Legionellosis for these regions, but most likely only represents a small percentage of infections as Travel Associated Legionnaires’ Disease (TALD), which includes hotel sources, is often difficult to pinpoint and thus most likely under-reported. It is estimated that 20% of all reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease are travel-associated and many more may go undetected (6). Both of the US outbreaks above were thought to be associated with the spa pools within the hotel facilities and the ELDSNet reports on the European cases state that “control measures were unsatisfactory” (5) which leads us to assume that all these incidences should have been preventable.
So, this begs the question...
WHY are we still seeing hotel-related cases of Legionnaires’ disease when the high-risk routes of infection are so well documented?
It is true, that when you consider the vast number of hotels worldwide, the resulting incident of hotel-acquired Legionnaires’ disease is very small and the majority are unaffected. However, no matter how few these cases may seem, the impact felt by those implicated when an outbreak does occur, both from a reputational and economical standpoint, are potentially catastrophic. And more importantly, AVOIDABLE. Visiting a hotel, whether for pleasure or business, should not be a lottery for potential infection with Legionella.
The CDC lists some of the primary causes for Legionnaires’ outbreaks as human errors, process failures and equipment failures (2). Deficiencies like uncleaned filters, disinfection failures or poor water management programs constitute failures that can and SHOULD be easily avoided.
Hoteliers have a responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both their guests and staff. Regardless of whether legislation in a region states mandatory Legionella testing is required or not, this should be a factor high up on the risk assessment agenda for every hotel manager around the globe. The more facilities offered by a hotel, the more focus there should be on preventing these from harbouring potentially problematic levels of Legionella.
High-risk areas for Legionella contamination within a hotel include (7):
- Hot tubs
- Swimming pools
- Sinks and showers
- Cooling towers and air conditioning units
But, additionally, risk areas exist that may not be immediately obvious and must not be overlooked (7):
- Decorative fountains
- Water sprinkler systems in maintained gardens (often water used is sourced from natural reserves or even waste-water systems)
- Food displays that use humidified air
Shutdown or intermittent use of rooms during the low season in hotels where high occupancy is not achieved all year round can also lead to potential problems due to stagnancy of the water which can favour Legionella growth. Low flow through these systems can also reduce the effectiveness of biocide and treatments being dispersed thoroughly through the system (7).
In all the above, Legionella contamination can be prevented or overcome using appropriate checks and actions including water temperature regulation, regular cleaning, disinfection and descaling, regular flushing of underused systems and maintenance of filters and equipment. Regular water testing can also reassure that the program of water management procedures is successfully maintaining a Legionella-free system.
How Hydrosense can help
We understand that the demands of the hospitality sector mean many responsible roles are time-poor. This is exactly why we developed a testing solution that can be carried out by anyone with very little training and can be completed within 10 minutes, with the final test result delivered in less than 30 minutes. Staff can go about their daily duties and come back 25 minutes after conducting the test to gather the result.
This Hydrosense rapid onsite test solution gives an immediate and actionable picture of the health of all areas of a hotel water system.
Hotel managers and their staff can have the perfect Legionella test toolkit, that fits around their busy schedules, to create an effective water management program that will prevent Legionella bacteria from taking hold and minimise the risk within their hotel. Prevention is the key to creating a safe environment for all users of a hotel and its facilities.
Every hotel throughout the world has a responsibility to reduce the impact of this disease and create safe spaces for guests rather than creating damaging headline news for themselves.
To find out more about how Hydrosense tests could fit into your water management program enquire below