Drivers who don't use a screenwash solution run a greater risk of getting deadly Legionnaires' disease
14 June 2010A study also revealed yesterday that professional drivers were more likely to be infected with Legionella bacteria, which thrive in warm, stagnant water.
Drivers are now being urged to add screenwash to their wiper water after traces of the Legionella bacterium were found in one in five cars that did not have the additive - but in no cars that did. It is now believed that around 20% of Legionnaires' disease cases could arise from this type of exposure.
The findings come from a study by the Government-backed Health Protection Agency.
Most at risk were found to be those driving a van, people who drive through industrial areas, and people who frequently drove with the window open. But the "most intriguing" higher-risk group was drivers not using screenwash, which kills off the Legionella bug, the authors of the study have found. They said: "Not adding screenwash to windscreen wiper fluid is a previously unidentified risk factor and appears to be strongly associated with community-acquired sporadic cases of Legionnaires' disease. "We estimated that around 20% of these cases could be attributed to this exposure."
The report, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, added: "This simple public health advice may be of worldwide relevance in reducing morbidity and mortality from Legionnaires' disease."
Stagnant, warm water is a breeding ground for Legionella, which causes a potentially fatal lung infection. It is contracted when small droplets of contaminated water are breathed in, and it cannot spread from person to person. Last year there were 345 cases in England and Wales, some of which were caught overseas. An estimated 10% of people who contract Legionnaires' disease will die from complications arising from infection.
Bacteriologist Prof Hugh Pennington told the BBC yesterday: "This is a bug which lives in the environment and will take advantage of warm-water systems that are not cleaned out. "Windscreen fluid stops the bug from growing. If you can prevent it with something this simple then it's a no-brainer really."