While you’re on vacation, bacteria can breed in the unused water lines of your shower and sink. In this article, you’ll learn what you need to keep in mind to protect yourself after your vacation.

In a (temporarily) unoccupied apartment, not only cobwebs can testify to the absence of the occupants, but also uninvited guests may have spread in the unused water pipes. This can also happen while you were on vacation: Legionella can multiply. According to Oko Test, infection with legionella can occur, for example, when you breathe in the finest water droplets while showering or washing your face. But you can prevent this with a simple action.

What is legionella?

Legionella is rod-shaped bacteria that live and multiply in water. They are particularly common in stagnant water that is thermally polluted. These are, for example, lakes that are heated by waste heat from nearby industrial plants. They are also often found in sludge or the condensation water of air conditioning systems. They enter organisms via contaminated water and cannot be transmitted from person to person.

But legionella can also be found in drinking water. This is because faucets where water stands for longer periods of time provide an ideal habitat for Legionella. According to the Robert Koch Institute, they can multiply particularly well at temperatures between 77 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s too cold (below 68 degrees Fahrenheit), they can’t multiply significantly, and if the temperature is too hot (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit), the bacteria die.  No matter how long your trip was and how thirsty you are – don’t drink from the tap immediately when you arrive home. This way you can avoid a possible legionella infection.

Symptoms of Legionella infection

In 2019, nearly 1,800 cases of legionellosis, an infection caused by Legionella that affects the respiratory tract, were reported in America. It is fatal in about five to ten percent of people, especially the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Healthy people very rarely become seriously ill from the infection.

The bacteria cause two types of disease:

Legionnaires’ disease / Legionella pneumonia: Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia.

It can be manifested by:

  • Cough
  • Chills
  • headache
  • severe feeling of illness
  • high fever
  • Diarrhea or states of confusion are also possible.

Untreated pneumonia is usually severe and should therefore always be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. The second disease transmitted by water contaminated with Legionella is Pontiac fever.  It causes symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Malaise
  • headache and aching limbs

Pontiac fever does not cause pneumonia and usually cures itself within a week.

After the vacation: How to protect against Legionella?

Particularly dangerous areas for possible infection are large buildings with long water pipes, such as hospitals, retirement homes, large hotels or schools, where the hot water can stand still for several weeks. But even in your water pipes, Legionella can produce many pathogenic offspring over days and weeks.

Prevention is the best protection against the bacteria. You don’t need any equipment for this, just your hand. When you return home from vacation, turn on all faucets and the shower before use, and run the water at maximum temperature to replace it with new.  A few minutes are all it takes to flush out the bacteria and get drinkable water back into the pipes. As Oko Test writes, it is enough in an average family home to drain about ten quarts to replace the water.