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Legionella testing methods reliability questioned

21 June 2017

A report by Brunel University has raised questions over the effectiveness of methods used to test for the presence of legionella bacteria in environmental samples.

Barriers to Effective Legionella Control in a Changing World - A practitioners View refers to study conducted in 2014 by Whiley and Taylor that saw just under 4,000 samples analysed, with 34% of samples initially testing positive.

These results were achieved by using 'culture methods', said the report, but when this was changed to the use of a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) method, a result of 72% was seen.

Stating that neither method is perfect, the Brunel research team said the former method is most likely to underestimate the presence of legionella, while the latter can overestimate the results.

A potential link to global warming is also included in the report, as increases in cases of legionnaires' disease has been noted during higher than normal temperatures or increased levels of rainfall provide more favourable conditions for legionella.

Recommendations made by the report including the re-examination of measures to protect susceptible people in non-healthcare premises.

Greater harmonisation of standards in both healthcare and non-healthcare premises should also be implemented.

The report also recommends the proportion of residents over the age of 65 in a building should be included as a risk factor in routine management strategies.

It also calls for new rapid test methods to be developed and the potential impact of global warming on legionella to be investigated.

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