Health Board shuts Tartu V Spa due to high Legionella bacteria levels

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V Spa in Tartu.
V Spa in Tartu. Source: Rene Türk/V Spa

The Estonian Health Board has detected high levels of the Legionella bacteria, which causes pneumonia, in samples taken from the water pipes of Tartu's V Spa. In some places, Legionella levels were almost 100 times higher than the norm. V Spa's services have been temporarily suspended and those who have visited the spa recently are asked to monitor their health carefully.

The Estonian Health Board inspected Tartu's V Spa, along with several other locations visited by an at risk elderly patient, who had recently become seriously ill with Legionnaires' disease, which is caused by the Legionella bacteria.

Head of the Health Board's southern region Tiia Luht confirmed, that both V Spa and the Kvartal Center, where it is located, were informed as soon the presence of high levels of Legionella in the water was confirmed. The spa's services have also been suspended until further notice.

On Thursday, the Health Board will collect further water samples in an attempt to determine the extent of the contamination. V Spa will then carry out additional cleaning of its facilities, including a chlorine shock treatment.

"V Spa will be able to re-open its doors to visitors once its test results are back within the normal range," explained Luht.

The Health Board advises people, who have visited the Tartu V Spa during the past two weeks, to closely monitor their health.

According to Irina Dontšenko, adviser to the Estonian Health Board's Department of Infectious Diseases, Legionnaires' disease is an acute infectious disease of bacterial origin, which can cause a serious type of pneumonia.

Early symptoms include a high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, chills, headache and/or muscle aches. Those who develop more severe respiratory symptoms within a couple of weeks of having visited V Spa are advised to contact their family doctor.

Legionnaires' disease does not usually cause abdominal discomfort or vomiting and is not contagious, meaning it cannot be spread from person to person. It is contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets containing the bacterium.

Regular maintenance of water supply systems is crucial to ensure Legionella bacteria levels remain low. To do so, cold water systems must be kept at temperatures of below 20C, whiles hot water systems should be between 55C and 60C.

"It is a rather peculiar bacteria, in that it starts to grow in stagnant waters, where the temperature is favorable. If the water is kept below 50 or 55C, then it provides really good conditions for the bacteria," explained Tiia Luht.

Gea Puidak, manager of V Spa, told ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera," that despite recent rises in energy prices, the center has not reduced air or water temperatures to save on costs.

"There is no stagnant water in the spa and in fact there is a system within the water system, which  heats the boilers at certain times of the day. Every day, when the water comes out of the shower, it's at 60C. As the spa is a complex environment, we have been really careful about this. (The problem) has also come as a complete surprise to us," said Puidak.

The Health Board is also urging people not to turn down the temperatures of the boilers in their homes.

"If someone wants to save a little bit (on bills), it's better to shorten the amount of time they spend in the shower, rather than lower the water temperature. If you've been away from home and turned your electricity off, before you use (the water again), let it run for a while, then turn the temperature back up to 60C, even if that's only for a brief time. Even two minutes with the water at 60C will kill the bacteria," said Luht.

Gea Puidak told ERR News on Friday, that cleaning work at the spa began on Thursday evening and ran through the night.

"We reacted immediately and began implementing the necessary measures. Our clean-up operation started yesterday, continued during the night, and will be completed this morning. By Saturday, all the necessary actions will have been taken," said Puidak.

Puidak added, that new water samples will then be taken at the start of next week for the Health Board to examine.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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