Bacteria in Dubai water tanks

Eight of 10 water tanks contain bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease


‘Dead birds, a few inches of sand, oh – and legionnaires,’ says Rob Courtnell, contracts manager for Howdra, when asked what kind of ‘normal’ nasties are found inside people’s water tanks during regular inspections in Dubai.

‘Really? How come?’ we ask, faintly shocked – especially as our kids regularly drink the bathwater – and then some.

‘The temperatures here combined with poor water tank maintenance, create the perfect environment for breeding bacteria. In terms of dead animals in water tanks, this usually happens when they are positioned on the roof of a building, the hatch is loose (or not there at all) and a thirsty bird – or whatever – topples in.’

We are too grossed out to enquire about the ‘whatever’, but presume its probably rodent related, so move swiftly onwards. But what can we do about such waterborne invasions, and should we be panicking – especially if we have small children?

‘I wouldn’t panic about it,’ he says reassuringly. ‘In fact, considering how much Legionnaires we do find in water tanks (which is far more often the case than not), very few people seem to be actually struck down with it, and that’s reassuring. But families should try to maintain both their A/C ducts and water tanks sensibly all the same, because other everyday illnesses, like coughs, colds and tummy bugs are also spread through dirty ducts and tanks – and nobody wants that either.’

In tank terms, Rob explains, households should consider flushing out their water systems at least once a year (preferably twice). That’s because, even if your tank has a well-fitting lid and is kept under cover, a year or so without cleaning will still result in several inches of silt building up at the bottom. This then filters through your system, and into your home. Coupled with this, he explains, the mains water temperature in summer is often a bacteria-breeding 38-degrees or more, so if your equipment is scummy, the germs will have a field day.

And, he says, if your tank is very hard to reach or clean (some are underground, while others are large enough to hold 3,000 gallons) it’s best to hire a reputable cleaning company to ensure the job is done properly. ‘The chemicals used to clean water tanks are so strong, that you need a special licence from Dubai Municipality to use them. And in many cases this is the best way to ensure your system is properly cleaned.’

But what about the A/C? Isn’t it also blamed for the large numbers of coughs, colds and sniffles we see in Dubai? Yes, says Rob, and having them cleaned three to four times a year is essential, because not only will cough and cold spores be spread via the re-circulated air (which will invariably be picked up by the children), but dirty A/C ducts can even trigger asthma attacks. Plus they work inefficiently, so are much more expensive to run.

‘As for Legionnaires, it’s often present in the drip trays. We tackle it by putting slow-dissolving tablets into the system which sterilizes them for two to three months at a time.’ he says.

Finding Legionnaires in your home is worrying, says Dr Handan Celiloglu, a consultant medical microbiologist at The City Hospital, explaining that when aerosols [airbourne particles] infected with Legionella are breathed into the lungs, it is more likely to cause the disease. This is considered the primary means of transmission, but you should not drink water comtaminated with it either.

‘Legionella are widely distributed in the environment and man-made facilities. As a result, most people are exposed to it,’ she explains, ‘but few develop symptoms. Those who may get it are people susceptible to pneumonia, those who have compromised immune systems, the over-60s or heavy smokers. Legionella is associated with a spectrum of clinical presentations, ranging from asymptomatic infection to severe, life-threatening diseases.’

Rob adds: ‘Sensible management helps, so clean your tanks and have your A/C cleaned properly. What you’ll save money-wise in electricity and doctor’s bills over the course of a year, could even make up for it.’

A Clean bill of health

Howdra’s Rob Courtnell shares his top tips on keeping your home healthy this summer.

Have your water tank professionally cleaned at least once a year by a contractor licenced by Dubai Municipality.

If you’re away this summer, flush out your water system when you return by running taps and showers for at least 10 minutes. The water will have been stagnating in your system and tank while you’ve been away and will contain bacteria.

Have your A/C systems professionally cleaned at least three times a year.

If you have split A/C units, remove the filters every few weeks, brush off the dust and soak them in Dettol to kill any bacteria.

Don’t panic. Brushing your teeth and cooking with tap water shouldn’t make you ill, unless you have a compromised immune system or you’ve seriously neglected the maintenance of your water tank.
Visit for more information on A/C and water tank cleaning.

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