Legionnaires' outbreak spreads to 24 confirmed cases

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon addressed Members of the Scottish Parliament this morning. Photo: Press Association

The first victim of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease to hit Edinburgh has been named as Robert Air. The 56-year-old father of two died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Tuesday, just two days after falling ill after working on a building site in the south-west area of the city.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon addressed members of the Scottish Parliament this morning and offered her condolences to his family after confirming the new number of confirmed and suspected cases.

Robert Air worked for the building firm J Smart and Company, who issued the following statement:

Mr Air was a good and conscientious employee who will be missed and our thoughts are with his family

The building firm have offered their 70 staff and sub contractors face masks to use whilst working at the housing development where Mr Air was working before he died. This is a precaution, official advice from NHS Lothian says they are not necessary.

The Scottish Health Secretary said this afternoon that Edinburgh is experiencing a "rare but serious" outbreak of the disease. The last time the NHS in Scotland dealt with such a large case was in Glasgow during the 1980s. She said the outbreak has spread and was likely to spread further. She said the number of suspected cases of the disease has increased overnight.

  • 24 confirmed cases
  • 14 are in intensive care
  • 37 suspected cases

Ms Sturgeon said she expected further cases to be confirmed in the coming days and weeks due to the relatively long incubation period of the disease, and the fact that the Scottish Government have not ascertained the source of the outbreak.

Legionnaires' disease is a fatal lung infection caused by Legionella, a bug that sits around freshwater environments harmlessly to humans, but can be dangerous when it contaminates water systems in our buildings.

Ms Sturgeon was keen to stress the risk to the general public remained low, but said some members of the public were more susceptible than others.

  • The disease is three times more common in men than women
  • Smokers, diabetes sufferers, those with kidney disease, cancer patients and those with underlying health problems are at a higher risk
  • The disease is more common in the over 50s

The problem at the moment is that the source of the outbreak has not been identified, and it is "an extremely complicated process" to do so.

We hope that they will begin to provide more specific answers about the source of the infection over the next few days. It is not always possible to conclusively determine the precise source of an outbreak.

– Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish Government suspect the outbreak is likely to be caused by an "outdoor source" such as a cooling tower, but they are still investigating.

NHS Lothian has confirmed that 16 cooling towers in the south west of Edinburgh have been identified as possible sources, and have been treated to kill the potentially deadly bacteria.