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Prolonged closure increases the risk of Legionella in Detroit Metro school buildings

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not the only disease which educators and parents worry about when students go back to school. The early and extended closure of school buildings has also exacerbated the risk of legionella.

Legionella is the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease and has been detected in several schools near Dayton, Ohio, and in a suburb of Pittsburgh.

The bacteria were detected during routine testing as the buildings were ready for reopening. Officials say those findings should serve as a warning to other schools.

“These things happen with old buildings or buildings that aren̵

7;t used that often, so, I mean, we trust the experts who have been flushing the system,” said parent Derek Coatney.

Legionella can form in standing water, from shower heads in locker rooms to drinking fountains to classroom sinks that have been unused for longer than normal due to the pandemic.

Bacteria spread through the fog when these water sources are turned on and, if inhaled, can cause Legionnaires’ disease.

“It’s cough, fever, shortness of breath and, unfortunately, it sounds a lot like COVID-19,” said Dr. Alan Taege, an infectious disease expert at the Cleveland Clinic. “It might be a little hard to tell.”

Younger, healthier people exposed to Legionella are less likely to get sick than older people and people with weakened immune systems.

Legionnaires’ disease is usually treated with antibiotics, but it can be deadly.

“It’s not something people need to be more afraid of, just respect,” Taege said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published guidelines for reopening buildings after prolonged periods of inactivity. Officials said these guidelines, including water tests and washing systems, can be applied to schools. These are steps that many schools have taken to keep students and staff safe.

The best way to prevent Legionella growth is to keep the water moving through the flush systems and run the water from every tap, fountain and shower at regular intervals. If this was not done during closure, schools must be proactive in testing the water.

Whirlpools or spas that have been closed in gyms could also pose a risk to Legionella.

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