Legionnaires’ analysis: ‘We try not to panic but it’s hard’
THE MOOD among residents of south-west Edinburgh is grim as an invisible plague starts to impact on everyday life.
Wheatfield Road is usually one of Edinburgh’s quieter side streets, but outside the gates of the North British Distillery in Gorgie, a huddle of men and women in yellow tabards and hard hats talk in hushed voices. Parked nearby is an NHS Lothian van.
This unassuming corner of the city, best known to Hearts supporters flocking to the team’s nearby Tynecastle stadium, is reluctantly in the spotlight after it was linked to Scotland’s worst single outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
In the past week 74 confirmed and suspected cases of the illness have been diagnosed among people who live or work in the area. Robert Air, a 56-year-old father-of-two who worked at a local construction plant, has died. The source of the outbreak, thought to be a cooling tower, has yet to be identified and health officials warn that the numbers affected could still rise.
The area rallied yesterday as local residents turned out for Gorgie gala day and did their best to go about their normal business. But the mood elsewhere remained grim: business is down and some shops have closed.
On Friday, North British Distillery – a collection of buildings that stands at the end of Wheatfield Road and has three cooling towers – was served with an improvement notice by the Health and Safety Executive for failure to “devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme”.
The company immediately shut down production and closed its cooling towers.
The distillery is one of four plants cited as potential sources of the Legionnaires’ outbreak, but public health officials have said the culprit might never be identified. Understandably, residents are worried. Magnus Miller, 82, has had a cough all week, and said his daughter was worried for him. “You live in fear,” he said. “Particularly older people like myself, it’s really quite frightening.”
Margaret Hooper, 75, out to do her morning shopping, agreed. She too has had a cough this week, and was so concerned it could be linked to Legionnaires’ disease, that she went straight to the doctor. “It turns out it was just a chest infection but it was so worrying,” she said. “People are trying not to panic but it’s hard.”
Butcher Stephen Gardener, stood behind his counter at Charles Stanley Quality Butcher on Gorgie Road, said business had been down.
“We’ve had a few calls from regulars asking for deliveries,” he said. “Some of our customers are too frightened to leave the house to come and get their messages.”
Mothers outside Tynecastle Nursery School admit they too are anxious. “Obviously when you have young children you’re very concerned. It seems like it is rare in young children but it does mean you’re trying to be extra vigilant,” said one.
There is concern that the 35,000 NHS Legionella factsheets, distributed across south-west Edinburgh, have yet to make it to Gorgie.
At the Gorgie Laundrette, employee Ann Newman, 40, has not seen a leaflet. Her boss’s 18-year-old son has been in the hospital with a suspected case of the disease, and has been sent home with antibiotics to await test results.
Her own 22-year-old son has also been feeling unwell. “There’s not been nearly enough information about it,” she said. “I’ve had no leaflets through my door, no-one has come to speak to us, there’s just been nothing. It’s as if they don’t care.”
Lack of information means myths have spread. Newman said she was boiling her water, an unnecessary precaution for an airborne disease such as Legionnaires’. It is also proving difficult to convince people the bug is not contagious.
A local chemist had a customer who wanted to buy a protective facemask. “They’re not very effective,” the pharmacist pointed out. “The cheap ones we sell are unlikely to protect you from something like this.”
In Let’s Eat, a Gorgie cafe, the outbreak has been a popular topic of conversation. “What can you do?” asked Ronald Annandale as he stacked sandwich fillings behind the counter. “If you’re going to get it you’re going to get it. You have to keep going about your business. The world can’t stop for something like this.”
And so, with little advice or guidance, many locals are having to fend for themselves.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west