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Posted Jun 15 2010 2:13pm

A new study has revealed that motorists who do not use screen wash for their windscreen wipers are at risk of contracting the potentially fatal Legionnaires ‘disease.

According to the NHS website, ‘Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal lung infection (pneumonia) that is caused by the bacteria legionella.

The condition is called Legionnaires’ disease because it was first identified after a mass outbreak at a hotel hosting a convention of a veteran organisation known as the American Legion.’

The bacteria occur naturally in rivers & ponds, but it is in artificial water supply systems that it can really thrive, temperature being crucial to its growth. The bacteria can be inhaled via small droplets of the contaminated water. The disease is not contagious.

The new study – funded by the Health Protection Agency & published in the European Journal of Epidemiology – set out to investigate why professional drivers in England & Wales were five times more likely to suffer from the disease. The people found to be most at risk were those driving through an industrial area, & those driving with the car window open. But the researchers say that, ‘Of the identified risk exposures, the risk found to be associated with not using screen wash in the windscreen wiper fluid was the most intriguing’. They said, “Not adding screen wash to windscreen wiper fluid is a previously unidentified risk factor and appears to be strongly associated with community- acquired sporadic cases of Legionnaires ‘disease.

“We estimated that around 20% of community acquired sporadic cases could be attributed to this exposure.”

They emphasize that further research is required to more fully understand the process, but conclude “This simple public health advice may be of worldwide relevance in reducing morbidity and mortality from Legionnaires ‘disease.”

As a result of the findings, drivers are now being encouraged to add screen wash to their wiper water.

Three hundred & forty five cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in England and Wales last year, although some of these cases were contracted abroad. It is estimated that ten per cent of people who get Legionnaires’ disease will die from complications arising from infection. Males, smokers, vulnerable people such as the elderly & those with a suppressed auto immune system, as well as people with other pre existing health conditions are at a particularly high risk from the disease.

Prompt treatment using specific antibiotics is essential in treating Legionnaires’ disease and reducing the risk of death.

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