Source of Italy’s legionella outbreak identified: don’t worry, it’s not the water

The source of the legionella bacteria that sickened hundreds of people in northern Italy has been identified as cooling towers, not tap water.

Source of Italy's legionella outbreak identified: don't worry, it's not the water
Contaminated water in cooling towers can be dispersed over several kilometres. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

“I assure all citizens that they can continue to use and drink water from the mains in total serenity,” the health councillor for Lombardy, Giulio Gallera, said on Monday.

Tests detected the bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' diseases and other respiratory illnesses, in nine of 14 cooling towers in the province of Brescia, he said.

Six of 12 samples taken from the River Chiese, which runs from Trentino to Brescia and into Lake Idro, also tested positive.

Authorities are expected to order the cooling towers' owners to conduct an urgent clean-up to prevent any further contamination. Prosecutors have opened an investigation to determine culpability for the outbreak, which is believed to have resulted in at least two deaths.

READ ALSO: Legionella bacteria confirmed in pneumonia patients in northern Italy

In total 405 people in Brescia suffered symptoms of pneumonia in recent weeks, with 42 cases confirmed to have been caused by legionella. Most of those affected were elderly and the majority were men.

The bacteria is transmitted by inhaling drops of contaminated water, which can be dispersed over several kilometres if it escapes from large industrial cooling towers.

New cases had already dropped off by last week, authorities said, leading them to believe that the worst of the outbreak is over. 

Italy has the highest number of cases of legionella bacterium infections in Europe, according to the most recent annual report by the European Centre for Disease Control. The number of detected cases is constantly rising across the continent, with better surveillance, population ageing, increased travel and climate change among the contributing factors.

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever in Italy soar

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP


Covid-19: Average life expectancy in Italy dropped by 1.2 years in 2020

Coronavirus cut average life expectancy in Italy by 1.2 years in 2020, and by more than four years in parts of the country hit hardest by the pandemic, official statistics showed on Monday.

Covid-19: Average life expectancy in Italy dropped by 1.2 years in 2020
A cemetery in Bergamo, one of the parts of Italy which has suffered the highest death toll during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Life expectancy at birth last year stood at 82 years, compared to 83.2 years in 2019, the Istat national statistics office said in a new release.

“In 2020, the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting sharp increase in mortality abruptly interrupted the growth in life expectancy at birth that had characterised the trend until 2019,” it said in a statement.

For many years Italy has boasted one of the longest life expectancies in Europe. But with the spread of the coronavirus, its ageing population was especially vulnerable to falling sick.

Italy has recorded close to 130,000 deaths from Covid-19 in total, which have mainly been among the elderly.


The drop in life expectancy was even steeper in some regions such as the northern provinces of Bergamo and Cremona, the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020.

Men lost on average 4.3 and 4.5 years while women lost 3.2 years and 2.9 years in these areas.

More than 129,500 people with coronavirus have died in Italy, the majority in the northern regions where 36 percent of the population lives.

According to Istat, the pandemic has wiped out many of the gains made year-on-year since 2010, when Italy’s average life expectancy was 81.7.

Italy was the first European country to face a major outbreak of Covid-19 and for a time the region of Lombardy, the nation’s economic heart, became the epicentre of the global pandemic.

Quality of life has also been impacted in Italy, particulary due to the economic repercussions of the crisis.

The government has since rolled out a vaccination programme that, as of Monday evening, had almost 72 percent of the population over 12 fully immunised.

Italy has set a target of vaccinating at least 80 percent of the population by the end of September.