If we asked 100 people what Legionella was, we bet we would get a high number of blank looks in return, which is a fair reaction. The Latin scientific name of a bacteria isn’t common knowledge for those of us without a passion for biology.

But Legionella can be the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, Legionellosis, and Pontiac fever, and in a lot of cases this can be traced back to hot water and plumbing equipment. So what is this sinister sounding bacteria and where does it lurk in your house?

Legionella Explained

Legionella is a reasonably common bacteria that exists in the home and in commercial settings throughout Australia. In fact, a recent study by Flinders University in Adelaide showed that 75% of homes were incubating Legionella. While the sample size of that study was small, the results were significant and highly concerning.

Metal tap in a kitchen

That’s because, in its more serious form, Legionella can cause Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is a serious infection of the lungs that has a lot of the same symptoms and problems as a severe bout of pneumonia. It can result in the onset of headaches, muscular pain and chills, as well as confusion, stomach pain and even death in some instances.

The less serious form of Legionella infection, Pontiac fever, produces similar symptoms but is far less serious because it does not cause an infection in the lungs.

Where Legionella Lives

Legionella is found outdoors and in nature in soil and water, but rarely causes any illness because it is simply not present in enough numbers to invade a human body with any effect. However, in the home, it’s a different story. In water systems of almost any kind, Legionella can find a cosy home and multiply rapidly. Some common areas for the bacteria to be present are hot water tubs, spas and outdoor mist/fan combinations.

How Legionella Takes Hold

For all its potentially damaging effects, Legionella is actually quite a delicate bacteria. It is dormant below 20 degrees Celsius, meaning that most cold water systems and cold water taps are at low risk of hosting Legionella. It is also less able to multiply and grow at temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius. It’s for that reason that home hot water systems are required by regulation to be able to heat hot water to 60 degrees before it is released into the pipework.

Legionella typically takes root and multiplies in warm, humid environments and a storage Hot Water Unit that is set to only heat the water to modest or ‘luke warm’ temperature is a major risk.

This environment creates the ideal place and temperature for Legionella to multiply

Protecting Your Family

To protect yourself and your family against this potentially dangerous bacteria, you can take a few simple steps. First of all, if people in your household are getting flu-like symptoms regularly, but not passing them to each other, it may be worth mentioning that to your doctor. Legionnaires’ disease, unlike the flu, does not spread easily from person to person.

If some showers and taps aren’t used regularly, run them at least once a week with hot water so that any bacteria living inside the pipes is regularly flushed out and cannot multiply to dangerous levels.

And finally, you should call a plumber regularly for general maintenance and testing of your home hot water system to ensure that it is heating your water to the right temperature each time. As homes and systems age, their likelihood of being less effective rises. Just like a car, a hot water system gets a lot of use, and it needs regular servicing and maintenance to ensure its effective operation.

Our friendly, experienced team of professionals at Salmon Plumbing are on hand to inspect your hot water unit and water pipe work to advise on the best course of action to help ensure they are bacteria free and in top shape.