9 December 1997

Tests have confirmed that a University of Queensland staff member has an illness linked to recent exposure to Legionella bacteria.

University Occupational Health and Safety Unit director Barry Pratt said while there was no evidence to link exposure to the staff member's work environment, the University was taking a cautious approach and had notified State health authorities and ordered environmental testing by an independent consultant.

He said the staff member's exposure may have occurred anywhere in the community.

The staff member had not been hospitalised and was being treated by a private practitioner.

The University now was awaiting the outcome of extensive testing of the workplace, of air conditioning systems, and of air inside and outside the Michie Building where the staff member worked.

He said the University had been advised that further medical tests had been undertaken to try to confirm the precise strain of Legionella responsible and this may help identify the source of the infection.

Mr Pratt said that as part of its duty of care to staff, 10 staff members had been relocated from levels one and two of the Michie Building. Staff had also been briefed about legionella bacteria.

Mr Pratt said that the air conditioning system and the regular maintenance schedule were designed to minimise the risk of bacterial growth.

Nevertheless, the consultant had examined the chilled water air conditioning unit which was regularly checked as part of the University's normal monthly maintenance program to meet the Australian standard AS3666 against microbial infection.

He said antibodies to Legionella occurred in 20 percent or more of healthy persons and were normally of no risk to their health. Legionella bacteria were found naturally and commonly in the environment in water and soil, and may also be found in some potting mixes, water cooling towers, shower roses, spa baths and even some hot water systems.

He said that healthy people were less at risk than people with diminished immune systems. Mr Pratt said: 'To cause illness, the organism typically needs to be present in large quantities in water which is inhaled, as spray, to multiply in the lungs and body, especially of those affected by chronic ill health or age. Smokers are also more at risk that non-smokers.'

For further information, contact Mr Pratt, telephone 07 3365 2563, a/h 3367 1456.

Issued 9 December, 1997