The worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in a decade has been blamed on a network of industrial cooling towers in the south-west of Edinburgh.
It has left one man dead and 12 people critically ill in hospital. By yesterday, the toll from the bacterial lung infection had risen to 40 confirmed and suspected cases.
Early indications suggest the source of the outbreak was a “contaminated cloud” emitted by one or more of the towers, which use the evaporation of water to cool industrial processes, the Scottish health secretary said yesterday.
The lethal bug is transmitted when infected water is inhaled as a vapour. It causes pneumonia-like symptoms and has a death rate of one in 10, but it does not spread from person to person.
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “This is the most significant Legionnaires' outbreak we have had in Scotland for a long, long time, perhaps since the early 1980s.”
All 16 cooling towers in the affected area of the city have been disinfected with chlorine and other chemicals to kill the bacteria. But tests to confirm the source will take up to 10 days.
Legionella bacteria are commonly found in sources of fresh water, such as rivers and lakes. The disease can only be caught from inhaling contaminated vapour.
Air conditioning systems, showers, swimming pools and spas can pose a risk if they are not properly cleaned and maintained.