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HPA - Update on Legionnaires’ cluster in UK travellers returning from Corfu

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is aware of a further three confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in people who have travelled to Corfu since August, bringing the total to 12. Another three possible cases with travel history to Corfu are under investigation.

The HPA is continuing to work with colleagues in the UK, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Greek Public Health authorities to collect and share further information regarding a possible source or sources.

The patients, whose ages range from 39 to 79, had visited a number of different areas of Corfu. The Greek authorities have sent two teams of public health experts to Corfu and over the past week samples have been taken from water sources at the hotels where the patients stayed as well as from various locations around the island where tourists visit.

HPA laboratory tests have identified three different subtypes of Legionnella from the patients’ samples, suggesting that one common source is unlikely. In addition, detailed questioning of the people who became unwell has also failed to reveal a common source. As a precautionary measure the HPA has been looking into the possibility of a UK source but preliminary investigations have so far not found a common link between the patients.

The HPA is continuing to advise people going on holiday to Corfu to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which is a form of pneumonia. If you develop ‘flu like’ symptoms in Corfu or within two weeks of returning from Corfu you should seek medical advice either from NHS Direct or your GP.

Professor Nick Phin, head of Legionnella surveillance at the HPA, said: “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. Legionnaires’ disease is uncommon and cannot be spread from person to person so the risk is low.

“We are continuing our investigations so that we can provide the best advice for travellers and minimize the risk of further cases. We will also continue to assist the Greek Public Health authorities with their extensive investigations into a possible source or sources within Corfu. Sometimes a source for the infection is never found, because the bacteria can live in a very wide variety of types of water supply.”

Legionnaires' disease can lead to a severe pneumonia, caused by the Legionella bacterium. It is able to survive in water, and may be spread through exposure to water droplets from cooling systems, shower heads, tap faucets etc. it is important to note that Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person. Symptoms may start between two and 14 days after exposure to the Legionella bacterium, often with an initial 'flu-like' illness leading on to pneumonia. Legionnaires' disease is uncommon in the UK, but can be a nasty infection and can lead to complications, and can be fatal. Early antibiotic treatment is important.

The HPA has issued a briefing note to all GPs asking them to be alert to returning travellers from Corfu with relevant symptoms. The HPA is also working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Federation of Tour Operators to ensure travel agencies are aware of the potential risk to travellers. Greek Public Health authorities have issued guidance on the detection and investigation of possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease to healthcare workers in Corfu and have issued an alert to all public and private hospitals on the island.

Notes to editors:

  1. For further information about Legionnaires’ disease please visit http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/LegionnairesDisease/
  2. For general travel health advise please visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre at http://www.nathnac.org/
  3. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk

For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.


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