Legionella outbreak: What is legionella? Traces detected on trains prompting rail strike

What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease

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Legionella bacteria can be potentially lethal and therefore, after low levels of the bacteria were found on Thameslink trains, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has expressed concern. Thousands contract the virus each year and if left untreated the infection can be fatal.

Thameslink confirmed trace amounts of legionella were found in seven toilets on four trains.

The toilets have been drained and bleached by the RMT union who said this move was “half-hearted and inadequate”.

The union has threatened strike action over the threat the bacteria poses to workers.

The train operator said there was “no recorded case of anyone, ever, contracting legionella from a train”.

The union has called for an urgent meeting with Thameslink’s Joint Safety Committee. It claimed it had been “raising concerns for weeks now”.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The latest cavalier approach from the company is pitifully inadequate and is an outright gamble with passenger and staff health.

“We have now declared a dispute.

“Be in no doubt, if we don’t get serious action we will ballot our members and do whatever is required to end this reckless approach to a potentially lethal situation on these increasingly busy trains.”

Thameslink has been keen to stress low levels of the bacteria were found on its trains.

Rob Mullen, train services director at Thameslink, said: “A very low level of legionella was found to be present during testing in a small number of our Thameslink Class 700 train toilets.

“While it is extremely unlikely this would cause any harm to passengers or colleagues, the toilets affected were immediately locked out of use.

“The trains were taken out of service and these toilets have now been drained, bleached and had their tanks completely refilled.”

In a statement Thameslink said: “Legionella can potentially be spread through atomised water droplets in the air in enclosed spaces, but water in our toilets is gravity-fed, which makes this extremely unlikely and further lowers the already very low risk.

“However, as a precaution, we immediately closed the affected toilets and took these trains out of service.

“The toilets affected have been completely drained, bleached and re-filled to rectify this situation.”

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What is legionella bacteria?

Left untreated, legionella bacteria can cause a lung infection called Legionnaires’ disease which can be fatal.

Legionella bacteria is commonly found in water sources, including rivers and lakes.

Sometimes the bacteria can also make its way into man-made water supplies.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe and often lethal form of pneumonia.

There are between 4,000 to 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease recorded each year in the UK.

But there were only 503 confirmed cases of the infection in 2019.

You can contract the disease if you breathe in tiny water droplets containing the bacteria.

Usually, it is caught in places like hotels, hospitals or offices, where the bacteria has entered the water supply.

Typically, if you have come into contact with the bacteria and develop Legionnaires’ disease, symptoms may include a cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, a high temperature, and flu-like symptoms.

Some patients may also experience muscle pain.

The disease is treatable if caught early and is managed using intravenous antibiotics, having oxygen through a face mask or tubes in your nose, or using a machine to help you breathe.

When you start to get better you might be able to take antibiotic tablets at home.

Antibiotic treatment usually lasts for one to three weeks.

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