Health Division advises residents to maintain cooling systems to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease

Oakland County Health Division, under the leadership of County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, is taking proactive steps to advise residents that routine cleaning and maintenance of devices that produce water mist help to prevent Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory infection caused by bacteria called Legionella. Devices that produce water mist include air conditioners, cooling condensers, cooling tower units, whirlpools, spas, room humidifiers, and outdoor misting systems.

The Michigan Department of Community Health reported that nearby counties have seen an increase in Legionnaires-DiseaseLegionnaires’ disease cases. Investigations are ongoing to determine common sources of exposure. However, Oakland County has not experienced a similar increase.

“These bacteria live best in warm water.  When these devices are not properly maintained or cleaned, the bacteria can grow and be expelled in the air when the device is turned back on,” said George J. Miller, Jr., director of Oakland County Health and Human Services. “Keeping Legionella bacteria from growing in water is the key to preventing infection.”

Regular cleaning and maintenance should be done on any cooling system before use. The Health Division recommends the following measures to prevent Legionnaires’ disease:

  • Home air conditioning and room humidifier’s condensate pans should be checked every week for drainage obstructions.  If the condensate pan is not draining properly, clean the blockage and pan with a sanitizing solution (1-teaspoon bleach in one gallon of water) and a brush.  Cleaning should be done outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.
  • Cooling towers should be drained when not in use to inhibit bacteria breeding environments.
  • Trained experts should perform disinfection and maintenance of water-cooled air handling equipment.  It should be mechanically cleaned to remove scale and sediment and appropriate biocides should be used to limit the growth of organisms.

Legionnaires’ disease is an uncommon respiratory infection that can develop into pneumonia. It occurs after mist is inhaled from a water source that has Legionella bacteria present. Persons may be exposed to these sources inside or outside of buildings. There is no evidence of car air conditioners or household window air conditioners causing infection. The disease is not transmitted from person-to-person and is treatable with antibiotics.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, extreme tiredness, and headache. Within a day of infection there is rising fever associated with chills. Temperatures commonly reach 102-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Pneumonia, a nonproductive cough, abdominal (stomach) pain, and diarrhea are also common symptoms. They begin 2-14 days after exposure, averaging 5-6 days.

For more information about Legionnaires’ disease, visit or call Nurse on Call at 248-858-1406.

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