Frequently Asked Questions

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is an uncommon infection of the lungs (pneumonia) caused by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria are commonly found in the environment, particularly water and soil. Infection occurs two to 10 days after a person breathes in the bacteria in contaminated water vapours or dust.

What are the symptoms?

People with Legionnaires’ disease usually get sick between two and 10 days after being infected.  Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of the flu and include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath. Some people also have muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

Who is at risk?

The risk of contracting Legionella pneumophila at Karratha Health Campus is very low.

Legionnaires’ disease most often affects middle-aged and older people, particularly those who smoke or who have chronic lung disease.  People whose immune systems are suppressed by medications or diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, diabetes or AIDS are also at increased risk.

How is it caused?

There are many different species of Legionella bacteria but the two most common in Australia are Legionella pneumophila (found in water) and Legionella longbeachae (found in soil). Legionella pneumophila is not transmitted from person to person.  It is usually picked up from water systems like air conditioning units, cooling towers, pools, baths and showers.

Historically, one of the most common modes of infection from the Legionella pneumophila bacteria has been through air conditioning cooling towers.  There are no air conditioning cooling towers at Karratha Health Campus; the system is air cooled.  This means there is no mechanism to contract this infection from the air conditioning system in this building.

The bacteria has been detected in the water system which is being flushed, treated, chlorinated and retested.

How did you discover Legionella in Karratha Health Campus?

Scheduled water testing led to the detection of legionella at Karratha Health Campus.

What is WACHS doing about it?

The risk of infection for patients and staff is minimal.  Immediate action includes the flushing of water lines and treatment of negative pressure rooms with chlorine.

As a purely precautionary measure:

  • Patients and staff are to place the toilet seat down before flushing
  • Patients and staff are not to use showers or hand basins – patients are being offered sponge baths to maintain hygiene
  • Showers and/or water immersion are not to be used for labouring women
  • Bottled water is available to all patients and staff

Repeat test results are expected this week and, if free from Legionella pneumophila, it is anticipated all precautions will be lifted.

Karratha Health Campus remains operational and anyone requiring urgent medical attention should access it as normal.

What is the risk to patients and staff?

Advice from the Environmental Health Directorate is that the presence of Legionella pneumophila presents a very low risk for our patients and staff.

Why are you handing out bottled water if there is no risk to patients and staff?

As a precautionary measure, bottled water is being offered as an additional option for staff and patients while we await the results of repeat tests.  For patients who are lying in bed, or who may have difficulty due to their condition, there is a risk of aspirating (inhaling the liquid) when drinking.  Usually the method of infection from the bacteria is through inhalation of fine droplets.  Bottled water addresses this risk for these patients, and so is available to anyone who would like it.

If I have a medical emergency can I still attend Karratha Health Campus?

Yes.  Karratha Health Campus remains operational and anyone requiring urgent medical attention should access it as normal.

I’m due to give birth at Karratha Health Campus, what do I do?

All patients should follow the advice of their clinician.  Unless advised otherwise, pregnant women should adhere to their agreed birthing plan.

Who can I talk to if I am worried?

An information line has been set up for anyone with concerns.  The number is 08 6553 0980 and will be available during business hours.  If the line is busy, please leave a message and someone will return your call.

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