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Deadly lung ailment Legionnaires’ disease on the rise in Switzerland

lung x-ray

Legionnaires’ disease affects the lungs and can be deadly.

(CDC / Betty Partin)

There’s been a 35% increase in the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Switzerland since 2016. Nearly 500 people became infected with the deadly lung disease last year. 

In 2017, there were 492 cases, compared with 365 in 2016, 395 in 2015 and 293 in 2014 – according to statistics from the Federal Office of Public Healthexternal link, as reported by Sunday newspaper SonntagsBlick. 

“We’re uneasy about the spread of Legionnaires’ disease. We don’t have the situation under control,” Daniel Koch, head of the department for communicable diseases, told the newspaper.

Legionella bacteria spreads through steam from showers, spas or humidifiers. If inhaled, the bacteria can cause severe lung and ribcage infections. In up to 10% of cases, infection ends fatally. Koch suspects that there have been many unreported cases, as only hospitals report the illness. 

The health office has launched a task force to cope with the problem. For example, solutions could be setting a legal limit for Legionella in water, and having cantonal authorities check on hotels and public baths. 

The office advises the public to heat boiler water to over 60 degrees Celsius and to rinse pipes regularly.


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