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Legionella bacteria found in Parliament

No reports of anyone contracting the bug

The administrative block of the Parliament building, where traces of legionella were found in the toilet facilities on the third floor. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The administrative block of the Parliament building, where traces of legionella were found in the toilet facilities on the third floor. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Parts of the Parliament building in Valletta have been isolated after legionella was found during “routine tests” soon before Christmas.

The presence of the dangerous bacteria was confirmed yesterday by Speaker Anġlu Farrugia following enquires by Times of Malta, which acted on concerns raised by staff members and MPs who contacted the newsroom.

Dr Farrugia pointed out that, at the time of writing, there were no reports of anybody contracting the bug and that prompt action had been taken in line with expert advice received from the environmental health authorities.

Legionella is normally linked to poorly maintained air-conditioning and water systems and humidifiers.

There were no reports of MPs or staff members catching the bug

Dr Farrugia said the cause of the outbreak was attributed to the “non-use” of a particular outlet in the toilet facilities, located at level three of the administrative block, right next to the City Gate steps.

Though the Environmental Health Directorate had taken samples on December 22 as part of a “routine” maintenance schedule, the alarm was raised five days later, when the results showed traces of legionella, he said.

At that stage, the area was completely isolated and access to the zone, including the showers and a kitchen, was barred, he added. Furthermore, a health warning was issued and all employees duly informed, the Speaker said.

Dr Farrugia noted an action plan was agreed with experts from the directorate, an industrial environmental chemist, a maintenance team from the Panta Lesco Group of Companies and the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation.

Subsequently, on Thursday, an “emergency shock treatment” of the entire system was carried out to eradicate any legionella traces and prevent them from spreading, Dr Farrugia said.

The tests would be repeated early next week to ascertain if the bug was eradicated, he continued.

While pointing out that his office was following to the letter all instructions issued by the directorate, Dr Farrugia said they would take this opportunity to enhance all preventive maintenance measures in place.

Legionella FAQs

What is legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by exposure to a bacterium that is found in water and soil. It ranges in severity from a mild influenza-like illness to a serious and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia.

What are the symptoms?

These include fever, headache, lethargy, muscle pain, diarrhoea and sometimes coughing up blood. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Who is most at risk?

Most people exposed to legionella do not get sick, and the disease does not spread directly between humans. In most cases, it affects people over 50 years of age with weak immune systems, chronic illnesses, smokers and, especially, those with a history of heavy drinking.

What is the cause?

Outbreaks are often linked to poorly maintained air-conditioning and water systems, humidifiers and whirlpool spas.

How can it be prevented?

The public health threat of legionnaires’ disease can be reduced by regular maintenance, cleaning and disinfection of water and air-conditioning systems to minimise the growth of the legionella bacterium. There is no vaccine currently available for legionnaires’ disease.

Source: WHO

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