Dec 28, 2000

Company Urges Worldwide Water Testing After Australian Legionella Outbreak

Officials at Binax have encouraged all facilities with cooling towers, air conditioning systems, whirlpool baths, vegetable misters or any type of hot water system to test for the presence of Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1.

Legionella is the ubiquitous bacterium that causes up to 90 percent of all cases of Legionnaires' Disease, a deadly, atypical pneumonia. Over 13,000 cases are reported in the US each year, yet most cases are unreported due to liability issues and many cases are undiagnosed. Outbreaks could be reduced if facilities practiced routine testing of their water systems.

Manufacturers of a new, rapid water test for Legionella, the Binax Equate Water Test, issued the warning after the recent Legionella outbreak at an aquarium in Australia in which 66 people became ill and at least two died. The outbreak is thought to have been caused by the aquarium's air conditioning system. While Legionnaires' Disease is deadly, it can be treated with antibiotics and it can also be prevented. If facilities routinely test their water supplies, they can monitor water for the presence of the disease-causing bacteria and decontaminate the water if there is a problem and before people fall ill.

Joe O'Kelly, business unit manager explains the benefits of the test, "The Equate test was developed to help prevent situations such as the outbreak in Australia. Recent reports have indicated that authorities there have relied on tests which show a total bacterial count. When it comes to Legionella, that's meaningless because total bacterial counts don't indicate high or low levels of the Legionella bacteria. You can have low total bacterial counts and very high Legionella counts. Conversely, you can have high total bacterial counts and low Legionella counts and not know the difference unless you specifically test for Legionella."

The new Equate Water test provides a result in less than an hour and is available immediately. Binax, Inc., a Portland-based pioneer of rapid diagnostics for infectious diseases, developed the world's first Legionella test in 1991 and created the new Equate test because customers expressed the desire for a test which would give an indication of a Legionella problem faster than other test methods. Other test methods currently on the market take up to two weeks before results are available.

Physicians and hospitals are also being encouraged to test any symptomatic patients with the Binax Now Urinary Antigen Test for Legionella, a 15-minute urine test that will let physicians know in life-saving minutes whether or not their patients have Legionnaires' Disease. That is especially important since this type of pneumonia preys on people with weakened immune systems and mimics the symptoms of other respiratory illnesses. The symptoms of Legionnaires' Disease include high fever, dry cough and diarrhea. When diagnosed early, the pneumonia can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

In July, an outbreak occurred in Maryland at a nursing home. In February of 1999, 233 people became ill at a flower show in Amsterdam. Of those, 150 were confirmed to have Legionnaires' Disease and 23 died. The source of infection was a whirlpool which was at the entrance of the show.