In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, people are becoming much more aware of public health. With most of the country on stay-at-home orders, it is more important than ever to make sure that our immediate environments are safe.
Your HVAC system can play a surprising role in such health crises. The most comparable example of how HVAC can affect public health is in the diagnosis and spread of Legionnaires disease. Studying the history and how other illnesses are spread can help us understand COVID-19 and take precautions to try to limit the spread.
One of the best defenses you have of preventing the spread of coronavirus in your home is keeping up with the maintenance of your HVAC system. Learn more about why this is important and what we can learn from the past.
Legionnaires Disease and What It Taught Us
Legionnaires disease was first diagnosed in the 70s, but it is highly likely that the illness has been around much longer. Because it presents as a form of pneumonia, it went undiagnosed for many, many years. Even since its discovery, it is estimated that there are far more people with the disease than are reported each year. Understanding the cause and spread of Legionnaires could help you understand how your HVAC plays a role in the current pandemic.
What is LD?
Legionnaires disease is a respiratory illness caused by breathing in the bacterium Legionella. This bacteria lives and grows in fresh water like streams and lakes. It can also be present in household water sources.
Common household areas where Legionella thrives include:
- Shower heads
- Sink faucets
- Cooling towers and central air conditioners
- Undrained hot tubs
- Decorative water fountains and features
- Hot water tanks
- Large plumbing systems
In order to contract Legionnaires disease, one must breathe in water droplets containing the bacteria. This can happen when you are in the shower, splashing water on your face at the sink, or when something splashes in a water feature, among other ways.
When was the first case of Legionnaires Disease diagnosed?
Legionnaires was first diagnosed in 1976 when the first documented outbreak occurred among attendees at a Philadelphia convention. Doctors raced to identify the cause and nature of the illness. Their discovery of Legionella brought to light that contaminated water has likely long been an issue, but undiagnosed.
How common is LD today?
Legionnaires’ disease has never been what you might think of as common. There are currently about 6,000 cases reported each year in the United States. However, it is likely much more common than can be confirmed. Legionnaires disease closely resembles other types of pneumonia. It is very probable that many cases are misdiagnosed each year. In addition, typically only outbreaks are widely reported. Individual cases, which are much more common, aren’t often figured into the statistics.
How does Legionnaires spread?
The only way to contract Legionnaires disease is to breathe in the bacteria on water droplets. In addition to breathing in water droplets from your household fixtures, many people also come into contact with Legionella through their air conditioners. Outbreaks are usually caused by legionella being present in a large water system, such as in a commercial building or event venue.
Some people are more likely to contract Legionnaires disease than others. Older adults, smokers, and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to contract legionnaires disease, even though many people may be exposed to the bacteria. People with pulmonary complications or conditions are also of a higher risk.
The Role of HVAC in the Spread of Legionnaires
HVAC systems sometimes play a large role in the spread of legionnaires’ disease. Air conditioners cause condensation to build, and if it is not drained away appropriately it can cause a number of health conditions, including Legionnaires disease. Legionella can grow and thrive in that condensation, and it is pulled up through the HVAC system and dispersed through the air that you breathe. Your entire family can contract Legionnaires in that way.
Legionnaires can also be spread by your HVAC system. If water droplets containing the bacteria are sucked into the HVAC system, they can be pushed back out into the common indoor environment. This can increase your exposure.
HVAC and the Coronavirus Pandemic
The current COVID-19 pandemic has everyone on edge. Stay-at-home orders have all non-essential employees and students hunkered down in their homes. But even taking all precautions, you could bring the virus into your home. Especially if you are an essential worker being exposed every day, it can be difficult to keep the virus out of your home and away from your family. You don’t want to put your loved ones at risk, so you take all precautions to keep your home safe. But there are some important factors that some people do not consider.
Similarities in Spread
COVID-19 and Legionnaires are spread in a similar way—through breathing in droplets. Coronavirus is spread through saliva droplets that carry the virus and are breathed in by others in the environment. The saliva droplets containing COVID-19 could also land on surfaces where it can be contracted by touch. This is the biggest difference between the spread of coronavirus and the spread of Legionnaires disease. Legionella has to be breathed in to contract the illness.
Similarities in Risk Factors
The people most at risk of serious illness are the same for COVID-19 and Legionnaires disease. Seniors, immunocompromised, and chronically ill people are more likely to contract the disease. People with pulmonary conditions and risk factors may also become critically ill.
We learned a lot from the experiences of Legionnaires disease. In recent decades, a lot of preventative measures have been put into place so that HVAC systems do not contribute to the spread and cause of illness.
Whether you are fighting Legionnaires disease or COVID-19, it is important to keep your home clean and your HVAC system well-maintained. While there are HVAC system upgrades that eliminate SARS-like viruses — such as ultraviolet sterilization systems — using a high-grade filter and keeping it clean has numerous other health benefits.
If you are bringing in deliveries or going out for supplies or work, you may be bringing the virus back into your home with you. It is important to disinfect all items coming into your home, as well as your hands each time you come back into the home. Disinfect anything that you touch before disinfecting your hands.
If you frequently leave the house, as an essential employee for example, you will need to make sure you maintain distance from others in your household. In case you are a carrier of the virus but asymptomatic, you should avoid situations in which your saliva could expose your family. It may also be a good idea to wear a mask when in the same room. If your saliva droplets are carrying the virus and enter the indoor environment, they can be circulated to other rooms through the HVAC system.
If you haven’t had a routine inspection or maintenance on your HVAC yet this year, now is the best time to do so. Keeping your unit clean and working efficiently is important for maintaining your health and the health of your family.
To ensure that your HVAC system is in good condition and not contributing to poor health, contact us so that we may assist you with an inspection and preventative maintenance of your air conditioner before the start of the season.
Expert Consultation – Only A Call Away!
Carolina Comfort, Inc. has been serving the neighborhoods of Columbia, South Carolina for over two decades. This means that when it comes to air conditioning systems, we really know our business.
From assessing your cooling requirements to bringing down costs associated with faulty air conditioning units, Carolina Comfort, Inc. can serve all your AC related needs.
The best part is that we pride on being available 24/7 for our customers.
After all, air conditioning systems can stop working any time, and so our technicians are always available to deal with any AC related emergencies – whether it is a weekend, holiday, or the middle of the night!
If you have any questions, need a consultation, or someone to repair your air conditioning unit – call us now!