News Health/Medical Declining Atmospheric Sulfur Dioxide Linked to Rise in Legionnaires' Disease
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Legionella

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Declining Atmospheric Sulfur Dioxide Linked to Rise in Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by inhaling the pathogenic bacteria Legionella, has been on the rise globally. Researchers from the University at Albany have now shed light on a potential contributing factor: declining atmospheric sulfur dioxide levels.

Understanding the Connection

Legionella, which can multiply in building water systems and spread through the air, is highly sensitive to acidity. Over the past half-century, legislation aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide emissions has led to decreased atmospheric acidity. However, this reduction in sulfur dioxide has unintended consequences for Legionella survival.

Cooling Towers and Legionella

The study focused on cooling towers—water handling systems associated with industrial, commercial, and large residential HVAC systems. Cooling towers can emit plumes of airborne bacteria, which, under the right conditions, can drift and infect people up to 10 kilometers away.

Implications for Public Health

Understanding how changing environmental conditions influence Legionella proliferation is critical for mitigating this public health risk. As sulfur dioxide levels continue to decline, efforts to monitor and manage Legionella in cooling towers become even more crucial.

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