Legionella infection wave: cause not clarified

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The cause of the legionella epidemic is still unclear

In the largest German legionella wave of infection to date in late summer this year, two people died and over 160 fell ill. The cause of the mass disease in Warstein in the Sauerland region is still not clear.

Largest wave of legionella infection to date in Germany In August and September this year, two people died in Warstein in the Sauerland region from pneumonia caused by legionella, and more than 160 people were infected with the bacteria. Well, more than a quarter of a year after the largest legionella wave in Germany to date, the cause of this is still not clear. The bacteria that can become dangerous if they are inhaled in tiny water droplets have been detected in sewage treatment plants, in a river and in an industrial cooling system. But the experts still don't know where the legionella first appeared. However, you know how the disease spread.

Doctors quickly got the right suspicion Fortunately, the doctors at the city hospital quickly got the right suspicion and therefore gave the right medication. In comparison to other outbreaks of legionella, this means that relatively few people have died. The industrial cooling system was quickly suspected of spreading the pathogens and was switched off. But then it took two weeks because of the incubation period for the new cases to subside. At the moment it only seems to be clear that nobody is deliberately or negligently responsible for the development and spread of the pathogens. In its investigations, the Arnsberg public prosecutor's office has so far found no evidence that anyone can be held responsible under criminal law.

Always legionella in the water There is always legionella in our water. This is not a problem as long as the bacteria do not find suitable conditions, such as warm temperatures, to multiply. There are various regulations in Germany to prevent Legionella infestation. When inhaled, the bacteria can stick to the mucous membranes like flu and get into the lungs. Affected people can get fever, cough, headache, shortness of breath or pneumonia. However, there is no risk of legionella if you drink water contaminated with Legionella.

Image of the city sustainably damaged Even if the wave of illnesses even resulted in a travel warning for Warstein, the residents remained calm. But in the meantime, they wouldn't want to hear any more about it, said Warstein's mayor Manfred Gödde. Legionella would have done lasting damage to the city. "You are still regretted everywhere," said Gödde. However, he now also benefits from it: “If I have a request somewhere, the doors are open. Everyone wants to help us get ahead again. ”The economic damage is enormous, the mayor estimates it in the double-digit millions, due to failures in various areas such as business, tourism or industry. However, the loss cannot be calculated exactly. "You don't know how many pairs of shoes a shop would have sold or how many sausages would have gone over the counter at the snack bar," said Gödde.

Significant losses In September, the international Montgolfiade, Europe's largest balloonist festival with more than 100,000 expected visitors, was canceled as a precaution. The Warsteiner brewery also suffered significant losses. Sales had dropped significantly after legionella had also been found in the clarifier of the brewery. The business has now recovered, but the company has given no further information about the current business or about losses. As the brewery announced, the company assumes that the bacteria did not arise in its own sewage treatment plant, but that the company itself was one of the many victims.

Improved regulations for cooling systems Experts have gained important insights from the wave of illness in Warstein, even if it is not yet clear where the dangerous bacteria had their first breeding ground. "So far, we have not had the sewage treatment plants very much in mind," said water expert Martin Exner from the Bonn Hygiene Institute. In addition, significantly improved regulations for the maintenance and registration of industrial recooling systems are now on the way. "These systems are at least involved in the spread of the bacteria," said Exner. After the Legionella outbreak in Warstein, higher values ​​were also measured in other sewage treatment plants. According to Exner, the partially explosive multiplication of the bacteria could have had to do with the temperatures and organic residues in the wastewater. “These seem to be factors that favor it. You have to keep that in mind, ”says the expert.

Expert commission next year The Ministry of the Environment in Düsseldorf wants to convene an expert commission next year to deal with the Legionella outbreak in Warstein again. Then similar incidents in Germany and Europe will also be investigated in order to better prevent such waves of disease in the future. Exner, who had been calling for better regulations for years, welcomed the effort: "Experience has shown that it always takes at least 20 years for a health problem to be fully processed and legal regulations to be established." (Ad)

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