How To Prevent Legionnaires Disease In Hotels

Travel is booming after more than a year of pandemic-related mandates and recommendations. Hotels are welcoming guests and looking to offer great (and safe) experiences. Now more than ever, guests are sensitive to measures hotels are taking to ensure a safe and healthy environment. While there is comfort in seeing hotels enforce stricter cleaning standards, what about the unseen risks that lurk below the surface?

With summer in full swing, the perfect conditions exist for Legionella bacteria in dormant water systems (particularly in light of the fact that many hotels and/or sections of hotels remained non-operational at the height of the pandemic) to multiply to dangerous levels with potentially fatal consequences if checks and controls are not put into place.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2015 and 2019, there were 208 outbreaks of illness linked to pools and hot tubs that resulted in 3,646 infections, 286 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths. Legionella was among the most common cause of these outbreaks and was the source of all the recorded deaths during the five-year period reported. Nearly all of the recorded outbreaks (96%) were associated with public pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Hotels and resorts accounted for 34% of outbreaks, with the majority of them originating in hot tubs (70%) versus pools. Cooling towers, showers, spas, and decorative fountains are also sources for Legionella to grow and spread. Most outbreaks, according to the CDC, occurred in the months of June, July, and August.

Legionella can cause a severe type of pneumonia, called Legionnaires’ disease, or a less serious illness called Pontiac fever, which can cause flu-like symptoms. People age 50 and older, current (or former) smokers and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a lung infection from the bacteria, according to the CDC.

Water Management Programs Prevent Legionnaires Outbreaks

Legionella outbreaks at hotels and resorts may interrupt services, which can diminish the guest experience and lead to considerable financial and reputational costs. It’s critical for insureds to employ a strong water management program to mitigate the possibility of an outbreak. This includes:

  • Identifying areas in a building where Legionella could grow and spread
  • Reducing risk by managing and monitoring the water system
  • Taking action when risks are identified

Hotel management should assign an individual to take overall responsibility for controlling the risks from Legionella within the property. In addition, other hotel staff should also receive Legionella training to ensure they understand how they can reduce the risks.

How to Prevent Legionnaires Disease in Hotels

  • Ensure water heaters are correctly maintained and that the temperature is correctly set.
  • Flush hot and cold water through all points of use (e.g., showers, sink faucets) to replace all water inside building piping with fresh water.
  • Clean all decorative water features, such as fountains.
  • Ensure hot tubs/spas are safe for use.
  • Ensure cooling towers are clean and well-maintained.
  • Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eyewash stations, and safety showers are clean and well-maintained.
  • Perform maintenance on the water system.

The CDC provides several resources to assist hotels in inhibiting Legionella growth that you can share with your insureds: Water Management Toolkit, Preventing Legionnaires’ Disease: A Training on Legionella Water Management Programs, and Considerations for Hotel Owners and Managers: How to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease.