Three new cases are confirmed in people who have travelled to the Greek island recently, with three more under investigation
guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 October 2011 18.58 BST
Three more cases of legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed in UK residents who have visited Corfu, bringing the total number of cases to 12, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.
The HPA said three other possible cases in people who had travelled to the Greek island in the past three months were still under investigation.
As a precautionary measure the HPA is looking into the possibility of a UK source but a spokeswoman said preliminary investigations had so far not found a common link between the patients – whose ages range from 39 to 79 – other than they had all visited Corfu, albeit different parts of the island.
Greek health authorities have sent two teams to Corfu and over the past week water samples have been taken from hotels and other venues.
Prof Nick Phin, head of the HPA’s legionnaires’ department, said the disease was uncommon and could not be spread from person to person, but warned residents to be aware of the risks.
“As we are still seeing cases of legionnaires’ in UK residents returning from Corfu, we want them to be aware of this potential risk, but we are not suggesting that people change their holiday plans,” Phin said.
He said it was difficult to pinpoint the cause behind the legionnaires’ cluster. “Sometimes a source for the infection is never found, because the bacteria can live in a very wide variety of types of water supply,” he said.
The HPA is working with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, UK colleagues and the Greek public health authorities to identify the source of the legionnaires’ cluster.
Laboratory tests have identified three different subtypes of Legionella bacteria from the patients, indicating one common source is unlikely.
People going on holiday to Corfu are being told to be aware of the signs and symptoms of legionnaires’ disease, which is a form of pneumonia spread through water droplets.
Symptoms may start between two and 14 days after exposure to the bacterium, often with an initial flu-like illness leading on to pneumonia. Legionnaires’ disease can lead to severe and potentially fatal cases of pneumonia.
The HPA has issued a briefing note to all GPs asking them to be alert to returning travellers from Corfu with relevant symptoms.