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Health Officials Warn About Legionnaire's Disease As State Reopens

A CDC microbiologist pours water samples from a building experiencing a Legionnaires' disease outbreak into a filtration system to test for Legionella.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As Florida reopens, health officials are warning businesses to make sure their water systems are thoroughly flushed out because a bacteria that causes a severe form of pneumonia could be present in the pipes.

Water in city utilities is typically treated with a germ-killing disinfect, a form of chlorine, that's safe to drink, but the Florida Department of Health warns that if buildings have sat empty for weeks or months their water systems will need to be thoroughly flushed.

Brian Miller, the administrator for environmental health at the Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said when water is stagnant, there can be a build-up of hazardous metals from old lead pipes and soldering -- and bacteria such as Legionella.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel

"Make sure that that you're turning on hot water and waiting for it to flow through,” Miller said. “You want to leave those faucets on, whether it's showerheads or faucets or flush the toilet a couple of times."

The water droplets can be transmitted through showerheads, hot tubs, sink faucets, centralized air-cooling systems, and large plumbing systems.

"We've tried so hard for everybody to stay well during this time; reopening would be a bad place to mess that all up,” Miller said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidance for reopening buildings after a prolonged shutdown or reduced operation, which can be found here.

Some tips from the health department to prevent Legionella from developing:

  • Develop a comprehensive water management program for your water system and all devices that use water.
  •  Ensure your water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is correctly set.
  •  Flush your water system.
  • Clean all decorative water features, such as fountains.
  • Ensure hot tubs/spas are safe for use.
  • Ensure cooling towers are clean and well-maintained.
  • Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and safety showers are clean and well-maintained.
  • Maintain your water system.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.