Can You Really Get Legionnaires' Disease From Your Air Conditioner?

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As of August 10, 2015, twelve people have died and about 113 have fallen ill from Legionnaires' disease in New York City. The source of the outbreak appears to be the cooling towers used to chill air conditioners in the area, leading many people to wonder if they can catch the disease from their air conditioners. Here's more information about Legionnaire's disease and why you probably don't need to worry about getting it.

About Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' disease is a lung infection caused by the Legionella bacteria. When inhaled, the bacterium invades lung cells and macrophages and causes the person to develop an atypical type of pneumonia. Although anyone can get the disease, it mostly affects older people, smokers, immunocompromised patients, and people who already have chronic lung diseases.

Legionella bacteria are already present in soil and water in small quantities, and many people come into contact with it every day. However, the organisms don't become problematic until they are aerosolized and a person inhales infected droplets of water. In most cases, when a person comes down with Legionnaires' disease, the water heater and plumbing system are the culprits because it's easier for the bacteria to gain access to the pipes and the warm water encourages their growth.

However, air conditioners can also spread Legionella bacteria. Although the appliance pulls water out of the air to cool down the room, some of that water is circulated back into the area, especially if the unit is connected to or has a built-in humidifier. If the Legionella bacterium has invaded the water in the air conditioning unit, the unit can send the infected moisture into a room in the form of humidity and cause vulnerable people to fall ill.

Why You Probably Don't Need to Worry

Most people with air conditioners don't have to worry about being infected with Legionnaire's disease because the units are generally closed. They don't pull water from plumbing pipes, and the components typically don't come into contact with infected soil. Therefore, the risk of having Legionella bacteria introduced into the a/c unit from an outside source is minimal.

Sometimes, though, exterior water is introduced into an air conditioning system. In the case of New York City, the bacterium was hiding in the water provided by the cooling towers, which was run through the air conditioners to help keep them cool. If your air conditioner is set up in such a way that exterior water is introduced into the system, then you may be at risk of getting Legionnaires' disease.

You can reduce your risk of infection by opening your air conditioner and cleaning the drip pan and other reachable components with bleach. You should also regularly disinfect any pipes or other components that come into contact with your a/c unit.

For more information, contact Climec Residential Inc. or a similar company.