Deadly disease outbreak in Scotland

A further eight people were yesterday confirmed to be suffering from Legionnaire's disease as the deadly outbreak continued to take its toll in Scotland.

It means 36 people have now been struck down by the bug which has already caused the death of one man, with a further 44 in Edinburgh waiting for test results confirming whether they are also infected with the waterborne virus.

Of the 80 confirmed and suspected cases, 15 are in intensive care and 27 are in general wards. A further 16 cases are being treated in the community and a number of people have already been discharged from hospital.

The new figures came as experts warned of a fresh wave of outbreaks. They blame cutbacks on health inspectors, coupled with recession-hit companies neglecting safety measures, for creating the ideal conditions for potentially lethal bacteria to thrive.

One leading Legionnaire's expert claimed firms were deliberately falsifying safety logs and said the practice could have devastating consequences.

Public health consultant David Harper said outbreak prevention measures had slipped to dangerous levels and were not policed as rigorously as they should be. He said: "Local environmental health officers have been cut back, which means we may see more outbreaks of Legionnaire's.

When times are tight, maintenance is one of the first things to be cut. This goes right across the board at hospitals, hotels and any facility which has water systems, air-conditioning or cooling towers."

"Businesses are ticking boxes and saying they are doing all these checks, but in reality not all of them are. They are gambling with peoples lives.

The source of the Edinburgh outbreak has yet to be identified but health authorities believe the bacteria found its way into one of 16 cooling towers in the south-west of the city. The towers, thought to be responsible for the worst outbreak of its kind for 30 years, have all now been chemically treated.

The first case of the disease was discovered last Tuesday. The victims range in age from 33 to 76, with men more affected than women. The only link between them is an association with south-west Edinburgh.

Last night, a Health and Safety Executive spokesman said: "We have maintained the broad number of inspectors and other staff over the past five years. It is wrong to claim numbers have been significantly reduced.

Yesterday, Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "The risk to the public remains low. I want to stress this bacteria is not passed on person to person or by drinking water. "

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