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The great British getaway – avoiding Legionnaires’ disease on holiday

As travel restrictions ease and it finally looks like we can begin to travel abroad, travellers should be aware of the risk of Legionella. Legionella is the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, which can contaminate water supplies after long periods of disuse.

What is Legionnaires' disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious, although relatively rare, infection, caused by the Legionella bacteria. It's usually caught by breathing in droplets of water that have been contaminated with the bacteria as a result of water systems not being maintained properly. The disease can prove fatal or lead to long term medical conditions.

Water reserves, cooling towers and evaporative condensers lying dormant for months make an ideal breeding ground for the Legionella bacteria. 

International serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are issuing a safety warning amid concerns that the risk of contracting the disease might be the last thing on the minds of travellers desperate to get back to their international holidays.

Covid-19 restrictions could have encouraged bacterial growth

During the Covid-19 lockdown, many water systems in buildings such as hotels, leisure centres, swimming pools, offices and even parts of hospitals and other health care facilities will have been used very little or, at worst, abandoned and left unattended.

The reduced use - or the complete closure - of water systems and associated equipment, including hot and cold water, cooling towers and various pools during the lockdowns mandated by governments could have encouraged the growth of legionella, the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease.

Even toilet cisterns can build up enormous populations of Legionella when left unused for prolonged periods, so the first person to flush it could be exposed to infection. If this potential growth has not been dealt with adequately before reopening buildings, there is a real risk people may be exposed to infectious aerosols and become infected with Legionnaires’ disease.

Cities experience higher number of Legionnaires' cases

Some cities across the world exiting coronavirus lockdowns have experienced higher than usual incidences of Legionnaires’ disease and employers, restaurateurs and hotel proprietors who are preparing buildings for the summer influx need to understand that government guidelines on protecting people from Covid-19 do not replace existing health and safety legislation and the legal duty to protect people from risks like legionella remain. 

In 2021, hotspot countries for Legionnaires’ disease included Australia, the US and New Zealand. 

Simple steps to reduce the risk of falling ill

Fortunately for holidaymakers, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends undertaking relatively simple actions to reduce the risk of getting ill on holiday from Legionnaires’ disease, including: 

  1. Flushing through showers with hot water, before entering the shower;
  2. Letting the hot tap run for 5-10 minutes before using it; and,
  3. Flushing toilets with the lid down before first use.

Through our work, we sadly see many cases demonstrating the devastating consequences of Legionnaires’ disease such as long-term debilitating illness and even death. There are strict guidelines in place to help control the development of the bacteria that causes the disease and it is important these are followed and those now emerging from months of lockdown do so safely. 

If you wish to know more the CDC is an internationally renowned body which has a plethora of guidance on its online pages. 


Coronavirus is no excuse for complacency when it comes to health and safety and as symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of Covid-19, taking necessary steps to prevent the disease are even more important to avoid cases of misdiagnosis during these testing times.