Compensation claims for Legionnaires Disease are likely to follow the outbreak of the infection in the south-west of Edinburgh once it is established who is at fault for the conditions which have enabled the Legionella Pneumophila bacteria to flourish.
The spread of the potentially fatal infection – which has already been responsible for the death of one man and is suspected to have affected 61 other residents of Edinburgh – has been blamed on the cooling towers in the districts of Dalry, Gorgie and Saughton.
Although 16 cooling towers in the area have been identified as possible sources of the infection, as the Legionella Pneumophila bacteria which cause Legionnaires Disease travel in tiny condensation droplets from these towers, it is not even certain that any of these locations is the culprit for the development of the infection.
Medical experts in Edinburgh are optimistic that the number of people affected by the outbreak of Legionnaires Disease will peak this weekend following chemical treatments being carried out at the suspected locations but, with an incubation period of up to fourteen days, victims may still be coming forward – if the source has been successfully treated – for several weeks yet.
Experts have also made Legionnaires Disease claims that the cause of the outbreak is money-saving tactics employed by the companies who own the cooling towers. One expert was quoted as saying “Plumbing systems used to run at 60c, which was enough to kill it off. But now some hotels, hospitals and public buildings are cutting that back to 50c, which isn’t.”
The infection – which is contracted when tiny water droplets carrying the Legionella bacteria enters the lungs – displays initial symptoms similar to the flu virus. Tiredness, fever, headache and a dry cough develop into pneumonia or a lung infection from which one-in-ten people die. Unfortunately many hospitals are not equipped to test for and identify Legionnaires Disease at an early enough stage.
In the Republic of Ireland, doctors are required by law to test all patients displaying symptoms of pneumonia for Legionnaires Disease but, according to microbiologist Dr. Tom Makin, most doctors in the UK prescribe standard antibiotics in the first instance, and only consider testing for Legionnaires Disease as an alternative when the patient fails to respond to treatment.
Indeed, NHS Lothian has been criticised for failing to advise GPs about the confirmed cases of Legionnaires Disease until the beginning of this (bank holiday) week, despite the first case being diagnosed on May 25th and the outbreak being confirmed as a “cluster” on June 2. NHS24, the online service which provides self-help care advice for Scotland was also not informed of the outbreak until the beginning of the week.
35,000 Legionnaires Disease information leaflets have been distributed to Edinburgh residents located close to the suspected sources of the outbreak, and Dr Duncan McCormick, Chairman of the incident management team at NHS Lothian, admitted that there may be further fatalities. “We’re doing everything we can in terms of early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and intensive care, but I think we can’t rule out any further deaths at this stage.”
People diagnosed with the disease will be entitled to claim compensation for Legionnaires Disease once the source of the infection is established. Samples have been taken from each of the towers suspected of hosting the Legionella Pneumophila bacteria and the results of tests on these samples are expected within ten days.
Those misdiagnosed with pneumonia who are later correctly diagnosed with Legionnaires Disease may also be able to claim Legionnaires Disease compensation against their medical practitioner or NHS Lothian depending on the circumstances of their case. For current and individual legal advice, victims of the disease are advised to speak with a Legionnaires Disease solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity.