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Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2008 Mar;211(1-2):179-85. Epub 2007 Apr 3.

Occurrence of Legionella in hot water systems of single-family residences in suburbs of two German cities with special reference to solar and district heating.

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Institute for Hygiene, University of Muenster, Robert-Koch-Str. 41, 48129 Muenster, Germany.


A total of 452 samples from hot water systems of randomly selected single family residences in the suburbs of two German cities were analysed for the occurrence of Legionella. Technical data were documented using a standardized questionnaire to evaluate possible factors promoting the growth of the bacterium in these small plumbing systems. All houses were supplied with treated groundwater from public water works. Drinking water quality was within the limits specified in the German regulations for drinking water and the water was not chlorinated. The results showed that plumbing systems in private houses that provided hot water from instantaneous water heaters were free of Legionella compared with a prevalence of 12% in houses with storage tanks and recirculating hot water where maximum counts of Legionella reached 100,000 CFU/100ml. The presence of L. pneumophila accounted for 93.9% of all Legionella positive specimens of which 71.8% belonged to serogroup 1. The volume of the storage tank, interrupting circulation for several hours daily and intermittently raising hot water temperatures to >60 degrees C had no influence on Legionella counts. Plumbing systems with copper pipes were more frequently contaminated than those made of synthetic materials or galvanized steel. An inhibitory effect due to copper was not present. Newly constructed systems (<2 years) were not colonized. The type of hot water preparation had a marked influence. More than 50% of all houses using district heating systems were colonized by Legionella. Their significantly lower hot water temperature is thought to be the key factor leading to intensified growth of Legionella. Although hot water systems using solar energy to supplement conventional hot water supplies operate at temperatures 3 degrees C lower than conventional systems, this technique does not seem to promote proliferation of the bacterium. Our data show convincingly that the temperature of the hot water is probably the most important or perhaps the only determinant factor for multiplication of Legionella. Water with a temperature below 46 degrees C was most frequently colonized and contained the highest concentrations of legionellae. It is evident that the same factors affecting colonization by Legionella in large buildings also exist in small residential water systems. If temperatures are low there is no difference between large and small systems and Legionella counts are high in both. Since private residences are an important source of community-acquired legionellosis, these findings emphasize the need for preventive control measures in small residential buildings. In some situations it may be necessary to install filtration devices at the point-of-use.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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