Cooling towers blamed for outbreak of deadly Legionnaires' disease that has killed a man and left 32 fighting for survival
Bacteria thought to have been transmitted via droplets of infected water from cloud of gas rising into the air
Man in his 50s dies from deadly bug in Edinburgh Royal InfirmaryTens of thousands at risk as epidemic could spread 44 square miles from source
Health bosses warn people to watch out for symptoms, which can take weeks to appearSymptoms include coughing, chest pains, fever and chills

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UPDATED:

11:52 GMT, 6 June 2012

A cloud of vapour rising from cooling towers has been blamed for a massive outbreak of the deadly Legionnaires' disease tearing through Edinburgh.

The killer bug has already claimed the life of a man in his 50s and 30 others from the Lothian area are fighting for survival.

The NHS said 17 people were in a critical condition with hospital, with another 15 suspected cases and more expected.

Outbreak: A man in his 50s has died and 15 people are in a critical condition after an outbreak of Legionnaires' at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

Outbreak: A man in his 50s has died and 15 people are in a critical condition after an outbreak of Legionnaires' at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

Chair of the incident management team Dr
Duncan McCormick said today that the cases were yet to peak, although he said he hoped the source of
the outbreak 'had been dealt with'.

Health authorities have warned people living in the area to be on the alert for symptoms, which include headaches, muscle pain, a high fever,
chills and coughing up blood.

All those affected are men and women aged between 33 and 74. The first case was diagnosed just over a week ago, but last night panic spread through the city as it become clear the area was in the grip of a major epidemic after a man died at the Royal Infirmary.

NHS Lothian said that the scale of the outbreak had escalated dramatically in the last 24 hours.

The potentially fatal infection is breathed in through droplets of contaminated water and could spread up to 44 square
miles from the source, affecting tens of thousands of people, and symptoms can
begin anytime from between two to 14 days after exposure to the
bacteria.

Deadly: A conceptual image of Legionella Pneumophila bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' Disease

Deadly: A conceptual image of Legionella Pneumophila bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' Disease

An urgent investigation has been launched into the cause of the outbreak, with industrial cooling towers in the south west of the city thought to be the source.

Samples have been taken from four
facilities, but legionella is a difficult bacteria to culture and
it could take up to ten days before results of the samples are
available.

The majority of the confirmed cases have been linked to the Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton areas.

Sixteen cooling towers at the four facilities in the area have had an additional chemical treatment.

Panicked locals last night took to Twitter to express their fears over the dangerous disease.

One wrote: 'Legionnaires outbreak !! Next to my house, scared of going out.'

Another added: 'Having had pneumonia in the last year or so, I'm a tad worried about this.'

A map showing the location of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak

A map showing the location of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak

Dr McCormick warned those at
greater risk from contracting the disease were 'older people,
particularly men, heavy smokers and those with other health conditions'.

KILLER BUG SPREADS LIKE WILDFIRE THROUGH WATER SUPPLY

Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal lung infection caused by the bacteria legionella.

The bacteria is commonly found in any freshwater areas but can sometimes find its way into artificial water supply systems.

It is contracted when small droplets of contaminated water in the air are breathed in, but is not spread from person to person.

The elderly, smokers, diabetes sufferers, those with kidney disease and cancer patients are most at risk, and men are three times more likely to contract the disease than women.

Symptoms
of the disease include headaches, muscle pain, high fever, chills, a
persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pains and sometimes
vomiting and diarrhoea.

About half of those who contract the disease experience changes to their mental state, such as confusion.

Symptoms can start between two and 14 days after exposure.

The disease is treated by intravenous antibiotics.

Around 10% of people victims will die from arising complications.

Large
buildings such as hotels, hospitals and museums are more vulnerable to
contamination because they have larger, more complex water supply
systems, which can let the contamination spread quickly.

But
medical experts stress that the condition cannot
be spread directly from person to person, nor contracted through drinking water.

'I would like to express my sincere condolences to the family of the patient who died,' said Dr McCormick.

'I would urge anyone who develops symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease to contact NHS 24 or their GP.

'People who fall into certain risk groups, these are males who are adults, who have an alcohol, drinking habit and have an underlying illness such as diabetes, or heart disease or lung disease – these people are at greater risk.

'These people should be very much aware that if they start feeling symptoms of flu-like illness, together with diarrhoea, cough and confusion, they should be consulting their GP or NHS 24 as soon as possible.'

Dr McCormick said the cooling towers had been
treated with a range of chemicals, including chlorine and bromine, to
kill the bacteria.

Legionella bacteria can contaminate artificial water supply systems, such as air
conditioning, hot water services and cooling towers.

Only one man has so far recovered and since been discharged from hospital following treatment.

The first case was identified on Monday May 28, and since then the numbers have grown steadily.

Dr McCormick said there was no threat to the city's public water supply.

'The public water supply in Edinburgh is extremely closely monitored and in addition it's not possible to contract Legionnaires' Disease through drinking water.

'It's contracted through the inhalation of water vapour in the form of an aerosol and that doesn't and that doesn't happen through drinking water supplies.'

Once it has infected your lungs,
Legionnaires' causes a persistent cough and the coughing up of mucus
or possibly blood followed by chest pains, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.

Around half of those with the disease risk changes to their mental state, and may find themselves confused.

The
source of the outbreak continues to be examined by officials from the
City of Edinburgh Council’s Environmental Health Service and Scientific
Service and the Health and Safety Executive.

Further
inspections will be carried out by the
Environmental Health Service, Scientific Service and the Health and
Safety Executive over the coming days to ensure control measures
continue to be effective.

A spokesman from the North British Distillery in Edinburgh said: 'Our thoughts are clearly with the families of those affected by this situation.

'The North British Distillery is actively working with the relevant authorities on the matter and supporting their ongoing inquiries to ascertain the source of the Legionella bacteria.

'Industrial cooling towers are only one potential source of infection, and the North British Distillery is one of a number of sites in the area with industrial cooling towers.

'The site has been inspected and nothing of concern was found. However, we are awaiting the results of the analysis of the samples taken by Edinburgh City Council Environmental Health Department.

'We wish to reassure the local community that we will comply fully with any guidance issued by the relevant agencies.'