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Legislation and the Outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease

Ninety-seven people have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease in New York, with eight people killed.

The source of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has been traced to cooling towers in the South Bronx. It is reported that the eight people who died were older and afflicted by other medical problems.

Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection caused by breathings in small droplets of water contaminated with Legionella bacteria, which infects your lungs but is not contagious and can’t spread from person to person. Legionnaires’ disease is often caused by plumbing systems in showers, spas, humidifiers, cooling towers or air-conditioning systems.

The NHS state that the initial symptoms are flu-like, including:

  • Headaches
  • High temperature
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Changes to your mental state
  • A persistent cough
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties.

Larger buildings are cited as most vulnerable due to their more complex water supply and air conditioning systems. In New York, of the 17 cooling towers that have been examined in the South Bronx, five tested positive for Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease develops by inhaling mere droplets of contaminated water. It is estimated that between 8,000 to 18,000 people in the United States alone are hospitalised with Legionnaires’ disease each year. A significant number of British holiday makers have also returned home from holiday destinations with Legionnaire’s disease.


In the UK, the law states that the locations of cooling towers must be registered with an area’s local authority. Regulations also require notification of the closure of the device and, under health and safety law, regular risk assessments for Legionella bacteria are to be undertaken. The legal requirement to register the locations of cooling towers and mandatory inspections and rules surrounding disinfection does not yet exist in New York, but lawmakers are reportedly working on legislation to prevent further outbreaks.

If you think that you may have Legionnaires’ disease, seek immediate medical attention. If you believe that your illness is the result of a property that you do not own, it is important that you contact a travel solicitor who specialises in travel litigation, as opposed to a general personal injury lawyer. For more information on overseas accident claims, read our previous blog here.

The team of Travel Litigation Experts at Slater and Gordon Lawyers have extensive experience in all manners of compensation claims involving an accident outside of the UK and offer free of charge, no obligation initial advice.

Nicola Marshall is a Travel Litigation Lawyer specialising in International Travel Litigation at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

If you are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease abroad, our No Win, No Fee Solicitors can help you with your claim for compensation.

Call us on Freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

From outside the UK please call +44 20 7657 1555.

Do you think the regulation of cooling towers should be mandatory? Will this change how you research your next trip abroad? Share your views below.

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