The Importance Of Testing For Legionella Bacteria

In the UK, reported cases of Legionnaires disease are on the increase; from 360 in 2016 to 450 in 2017 to 530 in 2018 and 503 in 2019.

Between the years of 2014 and 2016, there were 77 deaths, and over a thousand confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

In December of 2018, a UK District Council was fined £27,000 after an outbreak left a man close to death. The judge stated that the fine would have been ten times higher for a commercial business. Other companies have been fined £millions when Legionnaires’ disease has resulted in a fatality. See here for more.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a type of bacteria that can cause diseases such as Pontiac Fever, Lochgoilhead Fever and, the most serious Legionnaire’s Disease.

The bacteria gets into your lungs when you breathe in aerosols – small droplets of water suspended in the air. If not treated with antibiotics, it begins to affect the heart, brain, and other organs. The drop in blood pressure can also lead to septic shock as well as lung and kidney failure.

Everyone is open to infection, but Legionella can be fatal for some groups of people. The risk increases even further if you are a man over 50 years old, smoke or drink heavily, have an impaired immune system or a pre-existing health condition like diabetes, heart disease or respiratory issues.

Where is Legionella found?

The bacteria is common in natural water sources like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, but usually in low quantities. It becomes a major problem in purpose-built water systems where they haven’t been properly maintained.

It’s pretty resilient to low temperatures but prefers a temperature between 20-45 °C. Showers, cleaning systems, hot and cold water systems, air conditioning systems, spas, pools, hot tubs and drinking water systems all provide the right environment for contamination.

If these systems are poorly maintained, the bacteria will grow and increase the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease.

What is Legionnaire’s Disease?

This is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. The symptoms are similar to the flu – you’ll have a high temperature with fever and chills, muscle pain and tiredness, a cough, and probably a headache. You might also feel confused and experience vomiting or diarrhoea. If infected, between 10-30% of people die unless treated at the earliest opportunity.

Because of its similarity to the flu, it’s not always easy to detect and can result in serious complications when not treated promptly.

Legionella during Covid-19
According to the British Safety Council, it has been widely reported that buildings being reopened following the Covid-19 lockdown have the potential for a greatly increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease due to water stagnation and the absence of normal control measures.

Legionella infection is very similar to the Covid-19 infection and as you take measure against Covid-19 it is important to also prevent Legionella.

You can take simple steps to avoid an outbreak of Legionella:

  • Flush out piping and faucets that haven’t been used for a long time
  • Ensure hot water supply temperature (at outlets) is greater than 45°C. and cold water is less than 20°C.

Find out more here Legionella risks | (

Legal implications

Any case of legionella bacteria or likelihood of contamination must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

If this is not reported within 10 days there can be serious consequences for your business, your business could cease indefinitely, and you may be paying a large fine for breaching the law followed by persecution.

To find out how to report under the RIDDOR guidance, see here.


Employers and landlords have a responsibility to protect their employees from legionella, as outlined in the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). You should conduct regular tests to check for bacteria present in the water on your premises.

The LegionellaMAX Test Kit is the most advanced, accurate and versatile technology from Martek Lifecare for the rapid detection of Legionella bacteria, to keep your staff and customers safe and give you the peace of mind to run your business smoothly.

The test kit contains all the items required to perform 4 tests (2 water samples and 2 biofilm tests) and is designed for any water system such as showers, industrial and domestic water systems (e.g. cooling towers), spas and bathtubs.

What’s more, the test is simple to use (no training or previous knowledge required) and results are obtained on-site within 35 minutes.

Know the risks and always ensure that your water systems are safe for your employees and your customers.

Want to know more about Legionella testing? Download our free Legionella testing guide here.

Alternatively, you can get in touch here and we will be happy to help.


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