Legionnaire's disease

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am



What's happened? A deadly bug has been found in Hong Kong's new HK$5.5 billion government headquarters after a minister fell ill. The bacteria is called legionella pneumophila.

The worst form of the disease it causes is called legionnaire's disease. It produces a high fever and severe pneumonia, a lung infection. The bacteria is found in warm water and probably breeds in water pipes.


Who got it? Education Minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung fell ill with the disease and spent 12 days in hospital before being discharged last week. He had been suffering from pneumonia.


When was the bacteria found? Suen's illness was diagnosed on December 21 and the source of the infection traced to the new government offices. Tests found the bacteria was breeding in his office toilet. The level of legionella bacteria was up to 14 times higher than the acceptable international standard. On Monday, it was found in other places, too.


The bacteria was found in nine out of 31 water samples collected in Legco's new offices on the Tamar site in Central. It was prevalent in the East and West wings, the canteen and in one of the coffee shops. It was also found in the chief executive's office.


Why is it called Legionnaire's disease? A legion is a large group of people, and often used in the military. The disease was named in 1976 after an outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.


How did the Tamar headquarters become infected? No one knows, but experts suspect the site was contaminated during construction. Some believe the rush to finish the work on time could be to blame, because the water system was not fully sterilised.